Health authorities in Armenia on Thursday categorically denied media claims that the first cases of the potentially deadly West Nile virus have been registered in the country.
The reports quoting unnamed doctors claimed that at least two Armenians have already been infected with the mosquito-borne disease and that the Ministry of Health is deliberately hiding this fact.
The ministry dismissed these claims in a written statement. “As a specialist, I’d love to know where these two infected persons are being kept,” it’s chief epidemiologist, Ara Asoyan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “How can the country’s chief epidemiologist be unaware of that? I am really unaware.”
“If there were indeed such cases, then rest assured that our government, the Ministry of Health would have issued a warning,” insisted Asoyan.
Liana Torosian, a senior official at Armenia’s State Hygiene and Anti-Epidemiological Inspectorate, suggested that the rumors were fuelled by recent West Nile virus outbreaks in western Turkey and southern Russia that have left several people dead. “I must point out that the last such case was detected in Russia on August 10,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “There have been no new cases since then.”
The Western Nile fever, with symptoms similar to those of flu, was first identified in 1973 in Uganda. It is transmitted by mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds, and can be dangerous to elderly or chronic patients.
“I want to assure the population that this disease can not be transmitted from humans to humans,” stressed Torosian. “It is only transmitted by mosquitoes and leaches.”
Torosian admitted at the same time that “no country is now immune to this disease.” The authorities are therefore taking precautions against a possible spread of the disease into Armenia, she said.