Flu scare: “Common cold” season causes anxiety in Armenia amid talk of H1N1 spread in the region

Late autumn known as a period of common cold and “ordinary” seasonal grippe this year has caused greater anxiety in Armenia against the backdrop of continuing reports from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and other regional neighbors about “raging” swine flu.

But Armenian health authorities say there is no need to panic. They have so far reported no swine flu case in Armenia despite the fact that it is quickly spreading in neighboring countries and countries with which Armenia has close ties. Nine deaths caused by swine flu were recently reported in Turkey. As many as 70 people have died of swine flu in western regions of Ukraine leading to the introduction of a quarantine and cancellation of mass events, including those related to the presidential election campaign. (The swine flu outbreak also overshadowed last night’s UEFA Champions League game between Dynamo Kiev and Inter Milan that many had feared could also be canceled because of the development).

Armenian Health Minister Harutyun Kushkyan said on Wednesday that authorities had stepped up monitoring of people arriving in Armenia from neighboring states. He also informed the media that a large quantity of Tamiflu, an anti-virus drug that can be used in treating any form of influenza, has been stored up in Armenia and instructions have been given to purchase additional quantities.

Armenia does not have a swine flu vaccine yet.

“The vaccines have only just been manufactured in Russia, Europe and the United States and there is conflicting data about their effectiveness. When we have precise data on the effectiveness [of the drug] and know that it is safe and can be used for its purpose, we will purchase it,” explained the minister, adding that the decision on whether to purchase the newly developed swine flu vaccines or not will be made in some 15-20 days.

Specialists say an increase in the number of so-called seasonal influenza cases is normal during the late-autumn period of changing weather.

“There is no epidemic situation with seasonal flu in Armenia at this moment, but it is normal that it should become more active during this period,” Head of the Anti-Epidemic Department at the State Hygienic and Anti-Epidemic Control Inspectorate Lilit Avetisyan told ArmeniaNow.

According to Avetisyan, daily monitoring is conducted in all schools and kindergartens across the country to keep the situation under control.

(Swine flu is also one of the reasons for this daily monitoring and stepped-up controls. According to specialists, besides strict controls at border crossings, it is also necessary to monitor the situation in educational establishments. The risk of the penetration of H1N1, more commonly known as swine flu, particularly increases during this time of the year when usual seasonal influenza is widespread, especially as symptoms of both diseases are very much the same (fever, headache, muscle aches, cough, sore throat and others).

“Every morning a specialist (this is also done with assistance from municipalities and administrations of provincial governors) checks absentees in all schools and kindergartens and then verifies the reasons for these absences. If the absentee is taken ill with flu, he or she is advised to stay at home, get treatment and take hygienic procedures,” explains Asatryan.

In order to avoid catching the flu, specialists recommend washing hands regularly and minimizing contact with those ill or having flu symptoms, including by avoiding kisses and handshakes.

Head of the children’s department at Yerevan polyclinic N8 Susanna Chobanyan says that the number of calls from patients seeking professional assistance has “increased a little”. But she, too, says there is no seasonal flu epidemic in Armenia now.

“The number of calls, it can be said, has increased mechanically, as controls at educational establishments have become stricter in connection with swine flu,” says Chobanyan.

On November 4, 14 children were absent from kindergarten N5 in Yerevan attended by 94 children. According to kindergarten director Zvart Zakaryan, only two of those absent were ill, however.

“Others do not attend today for other reasons, for example a child does not want to go to kindergarten, stays at home, or more often the parents do not bring him or her when it is cold weather,” says Zakaryan.