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Russian experts downplay SARS scare, say alarm "unjustified"
May 12, 2003

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian health officials downplayed the dangers of the SARS (news - web sites) virus, describing the present worldwide alarm as "unjustified" and recommending a shot of vodka as a cure.

"The panic over SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is unjustified," Vitaly Zverev, head of Moscow's Virus Research Institute, told a press conference Monday.

The polymerase chain reaction method currently used for diagnosing SARS "is not reliable and has a large margin of error," Zverev said, calling into question the official figures for people affected by atypical pneumonia published by the World Health Organisation.

"I don't think there will be an epidemic of SARS in Russia" as the entry of Chinese nationals into Russia "has been limited," he said.

Russia has taken emergency steps to prevent the killer epidemic spilling over from China, imposing restrictions on travel across its vast land border, ordering airlines to no longer sell tickets for China and preparing for a complete ban on flights.

Anatoly Vorobyev, of Moscow's Medical Academy, said there was "nothing exceptional" about the sudden appearance of atypical pneumonia.

"Around 30 agents causing new diseases have appeared over the past 40 years," he noted.

"The flu virus takes a lot more lives than SARS," he added, pointing out that "the mortality rate among people with atypical pneumonia is roughly the same as among people with ordinary pneumonia."

"100 grammes of vodka kills all viruses," Vorobyev said, smiling. He added, however that according to a study by US experts, 70 grammes of alcohol taken daily help to fight heart disease and cerebral haemorrhages.

Russia currently has around 25 suspected SARS cases, though none as yet confirmed.

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