ATHENS – The deaths of 11 people and warnings by Greece’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control (KEELPNO) that the West Nile virus is spreading fast aren’t of concern to Health Minister Andreas Xanthos who said there’s no real worry of an “uncontrolled spread” of the illness.
He told Sto Kokkino radio however that KEELPNO remains on alert without explaining the contradiction.
“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, despite criticism the government had been slow to do spraying.
While he said he wasn’t anxious, he said people should contact their nearest health center if they suspect any cases of the virus he said aren’t spreading fast enough to cause any fear.
KEELPNO said there have been 107 cases so far this year, making Greece the third worst-hit country in the European Union.
Six of the victims died in the previous week, all of them over 70 years old, and in a period when 30 more cases hit and the health agency warning it could spread rapidly, at odds with what the minister said.
“Further cases are expected to be diagnosed in the coming period and West Nile virus infections are likely to occur in other geographical areas,” said KEELPNO.
The agency said it would release its next weekly report on Aug. 27 instead of Aug. 30 “so that the public has more immediate information and because of the rise in reported cases.”
Earlier, 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.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) said West Nile virus infections have spiked in 2018 compared to 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, with unusual rains followed by high temperatures creating mosquito breeding grounds.
The US Embassy in Athens 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.