VILNIUS - On Nov. 18, Lithuanian Health Care Minister Algis Caplikas announced the first victim of swine flu, which is known as the H1N1 virus. A 13-year old boy died in the Kaunas Medical University Clinics after six days of illness. On Nov. 23, a 40-year-old man in the north-eastern Lithuanian town of Visaginas died because of an H1N1 virus infection.
On Nov. 18, Arunas Skikas, vice-minister of the Health Care Ministry, and Vytautas Bakasenas, Lithuania’s chief epidemiologist, held a press conference. They said that 20 percent of Lithuania’s inhabitants will get sick from swine flu this fall. They emphasized that the percentage of deaths related to swine flu is not any bigger than from other forms of flu, though there is one big difference between those various forms of flu – the human organism is not adapted to the new form of flu and it means that 100 percent of Lithuanians will get the H1N1 virus sooner or later. Some two-thirds of the population who have a stronger immunity will not even notice that they were sick.
“The process started sooner than we expected. However, we have enough medication. Some 500 people have already died in Europe and 6,500 world-wide because of pandemic flu. On the other hand, for comparison, last year some 6,500 people died because of seasonal flu in Ukraine,” Skikas said. More than 350 people have died from swine flu in Ukraine this year.
According to Bakasenas, the number of registered ill persons increased by two times during the week. The peak in illness is expected in a few weeks, around Christmas time. The boy who died in Kaunas was 170 centimeters tall, and such rapidly growing teenagers are especially vulnerable to the virus.
People with significant underlying health conditions, pregnant women and young children are especially affected by the virus. While many people may experience only a mild illness there are many, including young healthy individuals, who will develop severe disease and may die. According to Caplikas, the vaccine against the H1N1 virus will arrive in Lithuania in two to three weeks and vaccination for doctors will be a priority. The Stockholm-based EU agency, European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, strongly advises all those Europeans who are offered the vaccine to be vaccinated.
On Nov. 20, Bakasenas recommended to municipalities to ban all mass gatherings. Many schools on that day were already closed. “Young people are especially vulnerable to the virus,” Bakasenas said.
The swine flu means good business for pharmaceutical traders and drug stores. The most popular medicine against swine flu, Tamiflu and Relenza, costs some 120 litas (34.75 euros) each and in some drug stores their price has gone up to 140 litas in Lithuania while in France, according to Lithuanian media reports, it costs just 10 litas for French residents, and 80 litas for foreigners.
The Tamiflu did disappear for some time from drug stores because of a massive influx of scared buyers, but Caplikas promised to supply drug stores from the state reserve. Seeking to speed up the arrival of additional quantities of drugs, the Health Care Ministry made an exception for anti-H1N1 drugs, allowing their import without packaging with Lithuanian-language inscriptions.
On Nov. 18, during a public Internet conference on delfi.lt site, Professor Arvydas Ambrozaitis, specialist of infectious diseases, made the following sensational statement: “It is estimated that according to the worst scenario, up to 20,000 inhabitants of Lithuania will die because of the pandemic.” The Lithuanian Health Care Ministry’s officials categorically denied such an estimation stating that they predict some 90 deaths in Lithuania during the pandemic.