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H1N1 Continues To Spread, Despite Leveling Off In Some Regions, WHO Reports

Despite reports that the numbers of new H1N1 (swine flu) are leveling off in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, the virus continues to spread, the WHO said Friday, Reuters reports. “In an update on the H1N1 swine flu virus, the WHO said parts of the southern and southeastern United States, as well as Iceland and Ireland, seemed to have weakening levels of disease after an unusually early start of the winter flu season,” the news service writes.

Still, H1N1 outbreaks continue across Canada and Mexico, as well as “[i]n Europe and central Asia, [where] overall influenza transmission continues to intensify,” according to the WHO. “The pandemic virus has now spread to 206 countries, with the latest reported laboratory-confirmed cases in Somalia, Nigeria and Burundi,” Reuters writes. “There have been more than 6,250 deaths to date, mostly in the Americas region, according to the WHO toll” (MacInnis, 11/13).

The WHO also “announced Friday that the swine flu illnesses and deaths so far in Ukraine – 265 fatalities nationwide, with 87 in the Lviv region – were statistically no worse than those in other countries,” the New York Times reports in an article examining what caused the sudden H1N1 outbreak. “Doctors blame the news media and politicians for spreading fear and misinformation. Others point to more remote causes, among them the desperate poverty of Ukraine’s health care system 20 years after the Soviet Union collapsed,” the newspaper writes.

“In Lviv, senior doctors earn a monthly salary of 1,500 hryvnas, approximately $184, pay so low that many physicians leave their practices to work as home health aides in Western Europe. Though health care is officially free, patients typically pay a stream of cash bribes for services as large as X-rays and as small as blood tests or linen changes.” Also, according to the New York Times, Ukrainians tend to distrust medicines, and rely, instead, on home remedies to treat illness. The article also details additional challenges health workers faced in attempting to seek care for patients with H1N1 (Barry, 11/13).

Meanwhile, the WHO reported Friday that Russia and Belarus were experiencing a “high to very high intensity of respiratory diseases,” the Moscow Times reports. “The Russian areas worst hit by [H1N1] are in the Far East, Siberia and Northwest Russia, Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova said last week, without elaborating. At least 31 deaths have been linked to [H1N1] in Russia, … and more than 4,560 people have been registered as infected” (11/16).