Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko greeting a young patient while visiting a children’s hospital in Kiev on Friday.
The World Health Organization said Friday that a “high to very high intensity of respiratory diseases” had been reported in Russia and Belarus but it was now less concerned about a big outbreak in Ukraine.
“The initial analysis of information from Ukraine indicates that the numbers of severe cases do not appear to be excessive when compared to the experience of other countries and do not represent any change in the transmission or virulence of the virus,” the WHO said in a statement posted on its web site.
Ukraine, Belarus and some Russian cities have recently extended school breaks because of fears about the pandemic virus. WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said school closures were among steps that could slow viral spread at the beginning of an outbreak, but had less usefulness once the flu had reached 5 percent of a given population.
“After the virus becomes more widespread in a country, closing schools has less of an impact,” he told a news briefing earlier in the week. “If you make a decision to close schools and universities and other institutions you have to be aware there are social and economic consequences of this decision.”
The Russian areas worst hit by swine flu 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 swine flu in Russia, also known as the H1N1 virus, and more than 4,560 people have been registered as infected.
The WHO said Friday that the winter flu season, which began early in the northern hemisphere this year, may be peaking in parts of North America and western Europe, including parts of the southern and southeastern United States, Iceland and Ireland.
The H1N1 virus has now spread to 206 countries, with the latest confirmed cases in Somalia, Nigeria and Burundi. More than 6,250 people have died, mostly in the Americas.