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FALSE: Europe to become hepatitis A outbreak

This summer, several media outlets from Russian Federation warned Russian citizens about the risk of becoming infected with hepatitis A in European countries, disease which could be most frequently spread by the homosexuals. Russian journalists exposed the information tendentiously, speculating that in Europe the incidence of hepatitis A is directly proportional to the degree of tolerance towards people with non-traditional sexual orientation. At the same time, they avoided presenting the incidence of hepatitis A (total number of sickness cases reported per capita) in the Russian Federation, where this number is much higher than compared to Europe.

On 22 June, Rossia 24 TV channel broadcast the report "Российским туристам рекомендовали привиться от гепатита А из-за геев» (Translated: "Russian tourists are advised to be vaccinated against hepatitis A because of the gay"), in which the journalist, referring to a statement issued by Rospotrebnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing), warns the TV-viewers of being in danger if going to Europe. "Rospotrebnadzor advised all Russian tourists to get vaccinated against hepatitis A, especially those who visit Europe, where the incidence of hepatitis A has increased significantly, and most of the infections occur among homosexuals", the journalist mentions. "If to judge by the figures, the more tolerant to homosexuals the country is, the higher the number of sickness cases is", he says. The report also explains that hepatitis A is much more widespread in Spain, where this year's World Festival of LGBT was organized (images of LGBT parades are shown in the report), but also in European states which tolerate sexual relations between same-sex persons: "Such country as Britain, France, Italy and Portugal are also under the blow". To validate their statements, the authors of the report presented two maps: one with hepatitis A incidence in Europe and another with the level of tolerance towards people with non-traditional sexual orientation, concluding that "data from both maps largely coincide". The report ends with the exclamation: "Who would have imagined that the suddenly-civilized Europe will become the outbreak of a medieval infection?!".

In the press release issued by Rospotrebnadzor, reference is made to the data of European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and it is stated that 15 European countries registered 1188 cases of hepatitis A during one year (June 2016 - June 2017), most cases being registered in the Netherlands, Great Britain and Spain. In fact, official data presented by ECDC indicate a slightly lower figure, i.e. 1173 cases in 15 European countries. Another ECDC report reveals that, indeed, most of the cases were detected among adult men who have sexual relations with other men.

Russia registers 5.5 times more cases of hepatitis A than in all 15 European countries

The 15 countries included in ECDC report are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. According to the website Europa.eu, 12 such countries are EU member-states and have a total population exceeding 374.3 million inhabitants, and the non-EU countries (Norway, Switzerland and Portugal) have a total population of 22.4 million. Respectively, the 15 countries included in ECDC report have a total population of 396.7 million people. For the registered number of 1173 cases of hepatitis A, the incidence is equal to 0.3 cases per 100 000 people. At the same time, the statistical data of the same Federal Service Rospotrebnadzor show that, during the year 2016, Russian Federation registered 6419 cases of hepatitis A, reported to a population of 144.3 million people, and the incidence was equal to 4.39 cases per 100 000 people. Thus, in one year, Russian Federation registered 5.5 times more cases of hepatitis A than in all 15 European countries, which sum up together a total population of 2.7 times bigger than Russia. But such statistical data were not presented by the Russian journalists, when they speculated about Europe to become "the outbreak of a medieval infection ".

The warning that Russian citizens are likely to become infected with hepatitis A from gays in Europe was distributed by several portals in Russian Federation, including Vedomosti.ru, Novayagazeta.ru, Newdaysnews.ru etc., but no source presented the hepatitis A situation in the Russian Federation.

Note: Hepatitis A is considered to be the "dirty hands disease". According to World Health Organization, it is closely related to inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene and consumption of contaminated drinking water and foodstuffs. Also, the virus is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person. A safe and effective vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis A.

Lilia Zaharia

The article was written within the framework of the Media Campaign against false and tendentious information STOP FALS! implemented by the Association of Independent Press (API) from Republic of Moldova, Independent Journalism Centre (IJC) and the Association of Independent TV Journalists (ATVJI).

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