Five people have died and over 100 have been infected in an outbreak of the West Nile virus in Volgograd, central Russia, where two million people are at risk of catching the mosquito-borne disease, officials said Tuesday.
"116 cases of the West Nile virus have been registered in the Volgograd region between July 16 and August 23, 2010," the Russian public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said.
Of those, "five have ended in fatalities," its branch for the region said in a statement posted on its website.
Weather conditions in the region coupled with migrating birds nesting in the Volga delta in the summer have facilitated the spread of the disease in the region over the past decade, the watchdog said.
But prolonged rains and a hot summer this year encouraged a spike in the disease, with birds infecting mosquitoes which in turn pass it on to people, it said, noting that twice as many mosquitoes have been infected with the virus this year, compared to 2009.
"A sharp spike in the number of mosquitoes in 2010 is related to the fact that May and June were unusually rainy," the statement said.
Russia is also now emerging from its severest heatwave on record which baked the country in July and the first half of August.
Of the two million people at risk of infection, the 1.5 million who live in the main regional city Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) and surrounding areas are in "the high-risk zone," the watchdog said.
The watchdog's branch for Voronezh, also in central Russia, said late last week three residents in that region had also contracted the virus.
The West Nile virus is indigenous to Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia and can cause a variety of syndromes, including meningitis and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.