NEWS

Greece enters ‘critical’ flu phase

With the third phase of the government’s program for the vaccination of the population against swine flu due to begin today with jabs for citizens aged 18 to 49, health experts yesterday stressed that «mass inoculation» was the only effective way to curb the spread of the H1N1 virus. Health Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, who was one of the first Greeks to receive the vaccine in a bid to set an example for the general public, yesterday encouraged citizens to do the same as the traditional flu season approaches and doctors predict a sharp increase in people contracting the H1N1 virus. «We are entering a dangerous period,» the minister told a press conference, noting that the next few weeks would be «critical» regarding the spread of the virus. Giorgos Saroglou, an infectious diseases expert at Athens University, indicated that the worst was yet to come and did not rule out a new spike in the pandemic in the spring when vaccinations are expected to continue. More than 80,000 people have been inoculated at hospitals and health centers across the country so far and thousands more are expected to visit one of the 600 vaccination centers this week to get their jabs. But there is still skepticism among some who fear the possible side effects of taking the drug. These concerns were fueled at the end of last week when a prosecutor on the island of Rhodes ordered an urgent investigation into the possible side effects of the vaccine. Xenogiannakopoulou yesterday condemned such behavior. «When we talk about issues regarding public health, we must be extremely careful about the messages we send out to the population and the impact of these messages on the country’s image abroad,» she said. The number of people to have died in Greece after becoming infected with swine flu rose to 19 yesterday following the deaths of a 74-year-old woman and two men, aged 64 and 55, who all had underlying ailments, as is the case with the overwhelming majority of the fatalities.