Swine flu and panic in Ukraine

There are a lot of rumors coming out of Ukraine right now about a new form of swine flu, a brand new illness, or some kind of virulent pneumonia. I suspect it’s no more than swine flu with complications, but it’s causing some major panic in Kiev.

Britain’s Daily Express newspaper has the terrified tabloid version. They report that “A cocktail of three flu viruses are reported to have mutated into a single pneumonic plague, which it is believed may be far more dangerous than swine flu. The death toll has reached 189 and more than 1 million people have been infected.” The New York Times has a slightly more nuanced report. They identify the mystery illness as swine flu and quote a WHO official who says that “Early findings are that serious cases mounted because the sick avoided hospitalization until their illness was dangerously advanced, stockpiles of Tamiflu were locked in centralized locations and the supply of ventilators fell short.”

I suspect that the WHO and the New York Times have it right. There are a lot of barriers to access to health care in Ukraine, under-the-table payments being one of the biggest. I can well imagine people refusing to go to a doctor until their lungs were past saving. Avian Flu diary agrees, attributing the unusual severity to viral hemorrhagic pneumonia as a complication of swine flu. They also have an enlightening comment at the bottom of their post from a commenter in Ukraine watching the situation unfold.

Secrecy is not helping the government of Ukraine here. In a nation with a history of cover-ups – Chernobyl being the most famous – the population is quick to panic when they sense that they’re not getting the real story. Getting the real story out as fast as possible and backing it up with access to medical care – is the only way to stop the panic.