Russian town panicked over mysterious illness
July 27, 1999
From Correspondent Steve Harrigan
Web posted at: 4:36 p.m. EDT (2036 GMT)
OBLIVSKAYA, Russia (CNN) -- All windows are shut tight in this southern Russia town, despite the summer heat.
Food markets are abandoned.
The only movement in town is an ambulance.
"We're afraid we're going to die, so no one goes outside," said a woman named Masha.
Masha's year-old daughter is one of dozens of townspeople who have fallen ill. The World Health Organization said July 26 that laboratory tests confirmed 65 cases of Crimean-Congo fever. The WHO said at least six people have died from the disease, including three children. The disease causes bleeding from the ears and nose. Eventually, the disease destroys blood vessels and the nervous system.
Disease has struck before
A similar epidemic struck parts of southern Russia 30 years ago. But Russian doctors don't know why it came back.
"We don't know the exact reason why this disease has returned here now," said Dr. Alexander Garnosik with Oblivskaya Hospital.
The health ministry ruled out quarantine. It maintains blood-sucking insects like fleas and ticks spread the disease.
Patients getting only vitamins
The only treatment offered by doctors so far is vitamin C. That has the town running wild with rumors about how to fight the outbreak.
Some residents think vodka will protect them.
"Even people who don't drink vodka are drinking now to keep the sickness away," said construction worker Pyotr Smirnov. "Families are trying to store up bottles."
Even health care workers aren't able to protect themselves. Basics like surgical masks and gloves are in short supply.
Three doctors are among those infected.
Little help for panicked town
So far national authorities have done little to stem the panic that has overwhelmed Oblivskaya, a thousand kilometers, or about 600 miles, south of Moscow in Russia's Rostov region.
Residents in a neighboring town were so afraid,
they tore down a bridge to keep the disease away.
"My fiancé is from the next town, but he's been afraid to cross the bridge since the sickness started," said one woman whose marriage is on hold.
But new reports of infection have slowed in recent days, giving hope that the worst may be over. And trains have been ordered to begin stopping again in Oblivskaya.
Mysterious killer virus hits southern Russia
July 18, 1999
Science and nature year in review
December 26, 1995
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Russian Federation (update)
Russian Public Health Association
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