Russia's health minister warns media against spreading flu panic

MOSCOW — Russia's health minister warned the media against spreading panic over a swine and seasonal flu outbreak and said the situation was under control.

Tatyana Golikova said in an interview published by the Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily on Nov. 6 that the number of people suffering from flu and respiratory illness in the country was not so far exceeding figures for the past two years.

"The data we have been receiving shows that the A/H1N1 virus mortality has not exceeded seasonal flu mortality rates. Medics have been taking extensive preventive measures," Golikova told the paper, according to the Russian newswire RIA Novosti.

Despite this, shop assistants and pedestrians wearing medical face masks have become a common sight in Moscow and other Russian cities.

A total of 15 people have died in Russia of swine flu and 3,122 other cases have been confirmed as the A/H1N1 virus as of Nov. 3. Swine flu cases in Russia began increasing considerably in October, traditionally the time for a seasonal flu outbreak. The country's first swine flu deaths were reported on Oct. 27.

Golikova acknowledged that the problem was serious, but said there was no reason to panic.

"The problem is serious, but the way it is addressed in the media has fueled ungrounded fears among people. I want to appeal to people and journalists — do not spread panic, there are no grounds for it," Golikova said.

She also said that medical authorities were paying particular attention to risk groups.

The panic has caused a shortage of medical masks and antiviral medicines in clinics and retail drug stores. Authorities in big cities have prolonged the fall holidays in schools.

Golikova said the ministry had stepped up control of drug stores' supplies and prices.

The minister also confirmed that mass swine flu vaccinations would begin Nov. 9, not in December as was earlier planned.