Schools close as mysterious virus spreads in Greece

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

ATHENS, Greece -- The Greek health ministry on Tuesday ordered all schools and universities closed through the end of the week, after 13 more people appeared to be suffering from an unidentified virus that has claimed three lives.

As concern grew, lines of people fearing they might be infected got longer at hospitals and medical clinics. Experts at the ministry's Special Infections Control Center met to discuss how to deal with infections as they awaited the results of tests to identify the virus. They were expected by today.

The new cases announced Tuesday brought to 32 the number of people believed afflicted since officials began keeping count on April 18. Most have been in Athens, home to nearly half Greece's 11 million people.

All 13 people were reported suffering from inflammation of the heart, known as myocarditis. Other symptoms include fever, muscle pain and respiratory problems.

One suspect is the common Coxsackie virus. In 1997, myocarditis caused by a strain of the Coxsackie virus was responsible for killing 30 children in Malaysia over the course of three months.

While asking the public not to panic, Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos said all educational facilities from preschools through universities would close beginning today "for purely preventative reasons."

The city of Athens also shut down its day-care centers, though all three of those who have died have been adults.

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