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H1N1(Swine Flu): Disturbing news from Ukraine, Schools Closed, Travel Restricted

Rather disturbing information starting coming out of the Ukraine on Friday regarding H1N1.  The government has shut schools, banned large public gatherings and imposed travel restrictions for three weeks – some of the most drastic measures taken across the globe to contain H1N1– after confirming that a sudden and swift outbreak has claimed at least 50 lives and placed over 2000 in the hospital. Stories are confusing as to the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. News reports range wildly from 11 deaths to 100.

The government is introducing "special regimes" to limit the movement of Ukraine's citizens from one region to another for non-urgent purposes. Ukraine has borders with four EU countries.

The prime minister’s tough actions came after the first confirmed deaths from H1N1 and growing panic over several dozen unexplained deaths in the west of the country.

"We can say today that Ukraine has entered into the zone of the swine flu epidemic," Health Minister Vassyl Kniazevich said.

The situation has kicked off a response from the WHO. It will dispatch the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network team or GOARN early next week to the eastern European country. The government of Ukraine is being forthcoming with information on the outbreak, which is said to center on three regions in the western part of the country. Although the story is evolving, some reports describe a dramatic spread of the virus to 80,000 people, with as many as 100 fatalities.  The early reports describing 100 fatalities mentioned 10,000 infections, which would create an alarming case fatality rate of 1%.
Media reports included descriptions of blood filled lungs, raising visions of the 1918 pandemic, which also involved swine H1N1 that jumped to humans and was efficiently transmitted.  Samples have already been sent to London for analysis, and immediate release of initial sequence data would be useful.  Small changes can have dramatic effects when viruses jump species, and the rapid spread of the H1N1 in western Ukraine is clearly cause for concern.

Citizens have a sense of panic and have flocked to pharmacies seeking to purchase medication and masks. Existing stocks quickly sold out fast sparking panic and anger at the government. Earlier on Friday, the government warned that licenses would be evoked for pharmacies that were caught overcharging for flu medications.

Friday WHO announced the number of swine flu deaths jumped by 700 in a week, reaching more than 5,700 worldwide since the virus was first uncovered in April 2009.  The biggest rise was recorded in the Americas region, where 4,175 deaths have now been reported to the WHO, up 636 from data published last week. Fatal cases in Europe also climbed to at least 281, while those in Asia-Pacific rose to 1,070. “In the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, influenza transmission continues to intensify, marking an unusually early start to winter influenza season in some countries,” said the WHO.


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