West Nile virus kills six in Russia: officials

24th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Six people have died and over 130 have been infected in an outbreak of the West Nile virus in central Russia, where at least two million people are at risk of catching the mosquitoe-borne disease, officials said Tuesday.

The Russian public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said that 116 cases of the West Nile virus have been registered in the Volgograd region since July 16.

Of those, "five have ended in fatalities," the watchdog's branch for the region said in a statement.

Another 22 people have contracted the virus in the nearby Rostov region, and one of those people -- an elderly man -- died, Yevgeny Kovalyov, deputy head of the watchdog's branch in the region, told AFP.

Kovalyov said the number of infected people was higher than last summer but added that an increase in numbers was due to a cyclical nature of the infection.

First discovered in Uganda in 1937, the West Nile virus is indigenous to Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia and can cause a variety of syndromes, including meningitis and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

In Russia it has been previously registered in the Volgograd, Rostov and Astrakhan regions but officials say the infection may be spreading.

The watchdog's branch for the Voronezh region, also in central Russia, said late last week three residents in that region had also contracted the virus.

Another six people have become infected in the Astrakhan region, Lyudmila Noskova, deputy head of the watchdog's branch for the region, told AFP.

The health watchdog said the spike on the Volga river has been caused by heavy rains in May and June.

Weather conditions in the Volgodrad region coupled with migrating birds nesting in the Volga delta in the summer have facilitated the spread of the disease in the region over the past decade, the watchdog said.

But prolonged rains and a hot summer this year encouraged a spike in the disease, with birds infecting mosquitoes which in turn pass it on to people, it said, noting that twice as many mosquitoes have been infected with the virus this year, compared to 2009.

Russia is also now emerging from its severest heatwave on record which baked the country in July and the first half of August.

Two million people are at risk of the infection in the Volgograd region, officials said.

© 2010 AFP

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