Virus alert shuts Greek schools

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The Independent Online

Schools across Greece were shut yesterday as part of emergency measures to stem the spread of a potentially fatal virus that has claimed three lives.

Schools across Greece were shut yesterday as part of emergency measures to stem the spread of a potentially fatal virus that has claimed three lives.

By yesterday evening 36 reported cases of the flu-like bug, which attacks the heart and respiratory system, had prompted the government to shut all educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities.

The Health Ministry described the measures as preventive, stressing that children were not especially susceptible. "Fewer children than adults have been affected by the virus but the measure is being taken to restrict any possible spread," a ministry statement said.

Schools will remain closed today and tomorrow, running into the fortnight-long Easter holidays due to begin next week.

Two women on the island of Crete and another in the northern Greek city of Ioannina have died from the virus, according to the Greek Special Infectious Diseases Centre. People have been warned to avoid crowds and encouraged to pay particular attention to personal hygiene. Meanwhile, hospitals throughout the country are facing huge queues as people seek assurance they have not been infected.

A spokesman for the disease centre said tests were expected to have yielded results on the origin of the infections at some point today.

The Greek military has been put on alert for an outbreak at bases, and planned exercises were cancelled.

The bug is thought to be a form of the common coxsackie virus, which most often affects the intestine but can spread to the respiratory system.

Symptoms are typically those of a common flu but in rare cases can cause fatal inflammation of the heart muscle.

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