YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian Ministry of Health scrambled over the weekend to end what it sees as an increasingly frenzied public reaction to the discovery of the first cases of swine flu in the country.
Top ministry officials urged Armenians to stop buying up Tamiflu drugs and medical masks, saying that the outbreak of the H1N1 virus is under control and not as dangerous as many people think.
“The situation is resembling a psychosis, with people looking for Tamiflu, medical masks,” complained Ara Asoyan, Armenia’s chief epidemiologist. “Tamiflu is prescribed only to patients who are in a severe condition and suffer from chronic respiratory illnesses.”
“According to our statistics, they make up only 3 percent of [flu patients.] And given that we currently have about 9,000 doses of Tamiflu, you can imagine that we would need hundreds of thousands of patient to use them,” Asoyan told a news conference.
“I urge people to stop their aggressive raids on drug stores,” added the official.
Armenia reported the first swine flu cases a week ago. Ten more people were diagnosed with the disease in the following days. Most of them have already been treated and discharged from hospital. Officials said on Saturday another five persons are suspected of catching it.
Vahan Poghosian, another senior Ministry of Health official, said that Armenians should stop buying and wearing masks and should undergo free tests at state policlinics only if they experience flu-like symptoms. “They see TV images of people abroad wearing the masks and follow their example,” he said. “It’s sick people that wear masks abroad. And that happens not only during flu and other epidemics. It’s a culture.”
“If there is a need for the people to walk around in masks, we will be the first to tell them about that and provide them with masks. But there is no such need now,” Poghosian told journalists.
Asoyan, for his part, argued that Armenia’s dry and continental climate is a major barrier to life-threatening flu complications such as pneumonia. “Pneumonia is not widespread in climatic conditions like ours,” he said.