Nine Dead, Hundreds Sickened
By Unnamed Plague In
Southern Russia
MOSCOW (AFP) - A mysterious killer virus spreading across the south of Russia has left nine dead and more than 100 hospitalized, with Russian experts stumped as to the nature of the disease, news agencies reported.
Authorities in the region have banned the sale of food on open markets, swimming holes have been declared off-limits, and hundreds of people have fled from their homes in fear of the highly infectious disease.
Its victims suffer from a plague-like skin rash, internal bleeding and even fatal brain hemorrhaging, symptoms which researchers said resemble a virus called Congo-Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever, which last broke out in the region in the 1950s, RIA Novosti reported Monday.
The latest outbreak first surfaced two weeks ago in the Rostov region, some 960 kilometers (600 miles) south of Moscow.
By Wednesday, six residents of the region's village of Oblimskaya - three of them children - had died, and 136 more were hospitalied with symptoms of the disease.
Over the past two days, similar cases began appearing in the neighboring Volgograd and Stavropol regions. Three died in Stavropol, three more were infected, and 32 were hospitalized in Volgograd, according to RIA Novosti.
The virus' alarming spread led the federal health ministry to set up a special emergency commission, sending specialists from Moscow to the south, where local doctors deny the infection has reached epidemic proportions, according to ITAR-TASS.
All 32 of the victims hospitalized in Stavropol had come from the Rostov region, RIA Novosti reported.
Medical experts remained divided as to the nature of the disease, with some denying the possibility that Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever had resurfaced. Others said the diagnosis was merely tentative and that research would not be completed for another two to three weeks, ITAR-TASS reported Monday.
The Congo-Crimean fever first appeared in the Crimea for which it is named, a region just 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Rostov, in 1944, and is transmitted by biting ticks that feed on warm-blooded animals, according to RIA Novosti.
Doctors say the disease has no known cure, and can only be treated by boosting the immune system.
One health official in the Rostov region said the outbreak was partly facilitated by overall poor sanitation, including a failure to adequately control rats, a common favorite for biting ticks.
Close to half of those stricken by the virus in Rostov were children, and three were hospital workers infected by patients, according to RIA Novosti.