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Russia's health minister warns media against spreading flu panic

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 Friday that the amount 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.

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 November 3. Swine flu cases in Russia began growing considerably in October, traditionally the time for a seasonal flu outbreak. The country's first swine flu deaths were reported on October 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.

"We are keeping special track of the situation in risk groups - children and pregnant women," she added, also saying that the health ministry would inform the public weekly of the latest figures and developments.

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 on November 9, not in December as was earlier planned.


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