Viewing cable 09VILNIUS596
Title: LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT SEES H1N1 THREAT AS

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
09VILNIUS5962009-11-09 11:06:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Vilnius
VZCZCXYZ0003
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVL #0596/01 3131106
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091106Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY VILNIUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3871
INFO RUEHCP/AMEMBASSY COPENHAGEN PRIORITY 2051
RUEHRA/AMEMBASSY RIGA PRIORITY 3678
RUEHTL/AMEMBASSY TALLINN PRIORITY
RUEHWR/AMEMBASSY WARSAW PRIORITY 3822
UNCLAS VILNIUS 000596 
 
SIPDIS 
 
EMBASSY COPENHAGEN FOR REGIONAL ESTH OFFICER 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: KFLU TBIO PREL LH
SUBJECT: LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT SEES H1N1 THREAT AS 
OVERBLOWN, EVEN AS CASES RISE 
 
REF: VILNIUS 455 
 
¶1.  SUMMARY:  After H1N1 flu sickened dozens of cadets at a 
Lithuanian military academy, GOL officials have urged the 
public not to panic.  At the same time, they have decided to 
stop testing flu victims to determine whether they have the 
H1N1 virus, and have yet to decide whether to purchase any 
H1N1 vaccine.  Health officials say Lithuania has about 6,500 
cases of seasonal flu, but only 68 confirmed cases of H1N1 
flu.  However, only several dozen patients have been tested, 
so nobody knows how many of those 6,500 flu cases are H1N1. 
The president has urged people not to be frightened of H1N1 
because its mortality rate is about the same as that of 
seasonal flu.  Senior health officials are skeptical of the 
H1N1 threat and the value of vaccination.  Pharmacies at 
times remain sold out of flu remedies and face masks.  Post's 
working group on H1N1 flu met on November 4 and reviewed the 
embassy's preparations for a pandemic.  End summary. 
 
¶2.  In the aftermath of the current flu outbreak in 
neighboring Ukraine and the announcement that H1N1 flu has 
struck about 50 cadets at a military academy in Vilnius, 
Lithuanian pharmacies saw a run on flu remedies and face 
masks, just as they did when the first flu cases were 
reported in North America several months ago.  Vice Minister 
of Health Arunas Skikas characterized the current shortages 
as "games of pharmacists" who wanted to create increased 
demand for their products.  Skikas told the press on November 
4 that Lithuania had about 6,500 cases of seasonal flu, and 
only 68 cases of H1N1 flu.  There have been no reported flu 
deaths this year in Lithuania.  But most flu victims are not 
tested to determine which virus they have, and Skikas did not 
say how health officials had determined that most of the 
victims had seasonal flu. 
 
¶3.  The 68 cases of H1N1 flu are easier to count.  The GOL 
includes in that number only cases confirmed by laboratory 
testing.  After 50 or more cadets at a military academy came 
down with the flu at the beginning of November, the GOL 
tested just six of them, saying that sample would be 
sufficient.  The six tests were positive for H1N1, and so the 
GOL added those six cases to its H1N1 total -- but did not 
also add the other several dozen cadets who shared barracks 
with them and also had the flu.  Three days after the cadets 
became ill, the academy was temporarily shut down and 
employees told to call in after the weekend to see when they 
should return to work.  Health officials told us that they 
are not monitoring the health of family members or others the 
cadets may have been in contact with in the days before they 
fell ill. 
 
¶4.  The head of the Infectious Diseases and Aids Center, Dr. 
Saulius Caplinskas, is one of the GOL's key advisors on 
influenza.  He told us on November 4 that he was skeptical of 
the value of the H1N1 vaccine, saying it could actually do 
more harm than good because of side effects.  He said he 
doubted many people in Lithuania would want to be vaccinated, 
and said he would not want his own child vaccinated with it. 
He charged that international drug companies have created 
"noise" about the new virus to raise the fear level, sell 
more vaccine and increase their profits.  With Caplinskas 
advising, the GOL has not yet decided whether to purchase any 
H1N1 vaccine. GOL officials say the vaccine is probably not 
necessary, given the low number of H1N1 cases in Lithuania 
and the reluctance of Lithuanians to be vaccinated.  Health 
officials, however, tell us that those stockpiles are 
sufficient only to treat 3.5 percent of the population. 
President Dalia Grybauskaite also has publicly urged people 
not to fear H1N1 flu, saying that it is no more lethal than 
seasonal flu. 
 
¶5.  The AIDS Center is the only lab that does H1N1 testing in 
Lithuania.  Vice Minister Skikas said that the GOL will soon 
stop testing all suspected cases of H1N1, and instead will 
conduct occasional random sampling to keep track of flu 
trends.  He said that because treatment of seasonal and H1N1 
flu is identical, the GOL saw no need to track all cases of 
H1N1 flu. 
 
¶6.  Lithuania does communicate regularly with EU health 
officials about influenza cases and trends, and the European 
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) publishes 
information from member states on its website.  Each week, 
Lithuania provides ECDC with updated numbers of new H1N1 and 
seasonal flu cases.  GOL officials also take part in periodic 
teleconferences among member states; there were three such 
conferences this week.  The EU provides recommendations to 
 
 
member countries on H1N1 prevention, treatment and 
vaccination, but states are not required to follow them.  EU 
member states can request assistance from the EU, but 
Lithuania has made no such requests yet, said one GOL health 
official to whom we spoke November 5. 
 
¶7.  Post convened a working group on November 4 to review 
preparedness for wider spread of the flu.  We have shared 
information with schools that have American-citizen students, 
and have repeatedly reminded all Mission staffers of basic 
precautions to take to minimize risk of flu exposure, and 
alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been distributed to all 
offices.  All Mission staff, American and local, have been 
urged to have flu shots in Post's medical unit.  Post also 
has adequate supplies of Tamiflu and face masks.  The working 
group, spearheaded by the ESTH officer and medical office, 
continues to monitor the flu situation in Lithuania. 
 
¶8.  Comment:  Lithuania, fortunately, has had no reported flu 
deaths so far this year, and does not have nearly as many flu 
cases as some other European countries.  When the pandemic 
does strike here, though, we fear that the medical 
bureaucracy's attitude and lack of preparation could make the 
situation worse.  We will continue to monitor Lithuania's 
preparations for a pandemic, encourage the GOL to take 
planning seriously, and will seek ways to assist the GOL 
should flu tighten its grip on the country.  End comment. 
DERSE