Mongolia turns to horse meat as H1N1 spreads in Asia

By Jargal Byambasuren and Lucy Hornby

ULAN BATOR (Reuters) - The price of horse meat has risen in Mongolia, as a surge in H1N1 cases and dearth of vaccines has people turning to folk remedies.

Seven people died and 630 cases have been treated in the two weeks since the H1N1 strain of influenza first appeared in Mongolia, forcing the government to close kindergartens, extend a holiday for secondary schools and cancel sports and cultural events, the English-language UB Post reported on Tuesday.

Across Asia, the onset of winter has coincided with a rapid rise in H1N1 cases, with governments closing schools to try and slow the spread of the disease. Afganistan ordered a three-week closure of all schools from Monday after that country's first reported H1N1 death.

"We are not surprised that in the Northern Hemisphere we're seeing an increase in cases, including fatal and serious cases. We're not surprised, but we are concerned," said Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization in Beijing.

"One of our biggest concerns is the developing world, because they are not as equipped to deal with the deteriorating situation."

In Mongolia, which has yet to receive vaccines for H1N1, non-emergency surgeries were postponed indefinitely to ensure enough hospital beds. The UB Post said a delivery of vaccines slated for November had been delayed to December.

Worried Mongolians spread the rumour that eating horse meat might stave off the disease, pushing up prices.

In South Korea, where the disease has killed 42 people, health authorities raised the epidemic alert to the highest level. Nearly 400 schools have closed voluntarily.

"Infection levels are increasing rapidly. However, ordinary citizens have no reason to be alarmed," the South Korean health ministry said in a statement, adding it has started a vaccination programme and stockpiled medicine.

A major concern for parents and health officials comes next week when South Korea holds its national college entrance exam that brings tens of thousands of teens together across the country to take a test that many feel can chart the course for the rest of their lives.

In Beijing, H1N1 claimed the life of a 32-year-old Russian man, who had arrived in the city last week and checked into the hospital with breathing difficulties on Nov. 1, the Xinhua news agency said. China has reported nearly 49,000 cases and seven deaths as of Monday.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Christine Kim in SEOUL, and Tyra Dempster in BEIJING; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)



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