NICOSIA, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) — An “unusually aggressive” type A flu virus and a harsher-than-normal winter in Cyprus are the key factors to be blamed for the high rate of deaths among people affected, a Ministry of Health official told state radio on Thursday.
Maria Koliou, chief of the Infectious Diseases Control section of the Cypriot Ministry of Health, said that the number of deaths, 12 up to now, is much higher compared with previous years.
She said the H1N1 virus, also known as “swine flu”, struck much earlier this winter season than in previous years, most probably as a result of lower than usual temperatures and higher humidity, affecting people with respiratory problems or chronic health conditions.
The flu toll stood at only 6 up to the end of January, but jumped to 12 in the first three weeks of February, with the latest three deaths occurring within two days.
“They were people who faced health problems for a long time,” Koliou said.
She added that a total of 56 people in a serious condition were or are still being treated in hospitals. Among them most were elderly people with multiple underlying chronic health problems.
But there were also deaths involving a 34-year-old healthy man and a 2-year-old child.
The death toll from flu in Cyprus is perhaps the highest given its population of 1.2 million, compared with other countries in the region, mostly in the Balkans, that are affected by the H1N1 virus.
Greece, with a population of close to 11 million, has announced about 56 deaths from flu up to now.
Koliou said flu cases remain high since the beginning of February, but there has been a drop in the last two weeks compared with previous weeks, giving hope that the infection is declining with the onset of milder weather.
The drop is particularly noticeable among children and had led to fewer hospital admissions, she added.
The Health Ministry had earlier said in a statement that despite the high number of serious cases, no panic is justified.
It added that it is constantly monitoring the situation and advised people to follow personal hygiene rules, avoid crowded spaces and stay at home for at least 48 hours after flu symptoms subsided.