Seeking to put a lid on mounting fears that an epidemic of the West Nile virus is in the making, Greek Health Minister Andreas Xanthos said there is “no real concern” of an “uncontrolled spread” of the virus.
Speaking on Sto Kokkino radio on Friday, Xanthos said that the Health Ministry and the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (KEELPNO) are nevertheless “on alert.”
“Relevant directions were issued in good time, KEELPNO is making frequent reports and instructions have been given to the regional authorities for the necessary spraying [against mosquitoes],” he said.
Xanthos also urged citizens to be alert and to contact the nearest health center or hospital if they suspect any cases of the virus.
According to KEELPNO’s weekly report, released on Thursday, there have been 107 cases that have resulted in 11 deaths so far this year.
In the last week alone, six people – all over 70 – have died, with 30 cases reported in just six days. KEELPNO also warned that yet more virus infections are expected in the coming period.
“Further cases are expected to be diagnosed in the coming period and West Nile virus infections are likely to occur in other geographical areas,” it said.
And in another indication of the sense of urgency with regard to the spread of the virus, KEELPNO said it will release its next weekly report earlier than usual – on Monday instead of Thursday – “so that the public has more immediate information and because of the rise in reported cases.”
On Thursday, the president of Greece’s Union of Municipalities and Communities (KEDE), Giorgos Patoulis, called for a national action plan as, he insisted, “public health is in danger.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), West Nile virus infections have sharply increased in 2018 compared with the previous four years.
“This is largely due to the early start of the 2018 transmission season in the WHO European Region, which normally lasts from July to October,” it said last Tuesday, adding that this year’s season “has been characterized by high temperatures and extended rainy spells, followed by dry weather.”
“Such weather conditions have been conducive to mosquito breeding and propagation,” it said. The most affected countries include Serbia , Italy, Greece , Hungary and Romania.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Athens has issued a health alert regarding the virus to American citizens living in Greece or intending to visit the country.
The embassy urged US citizens to “take preventative measures, such as using mosquito repellent when outdoors, wearing long pants/long sleeves, closing doors and windows or using screens, cleaning up mosquito breeding areas (such as standing water in flower pots), and keeping grasses and bushes trimmed.”
They should also keep an eye on local media, it said.