- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 9, 2003 

Water Damage: Village disease outbreak linked to contaminated reservoir

Villagers say they can't sell their dairy products now because of the contamination..

Some 200 residents of the village of Fantan, about 40 kilometers north of Yerevan have become ill from a disease transmitted by drinking water. Six are in serious condition and are being treated in infectious hospitals in Yerevan and Charentsavan.

The outbreak began in late March, but it was not until a month later that doctors in the Koytak region alerted the Ministry of Healthcare. About 1,100 people live in Fantan.

"Three members of my family are in serious condition," says 63 year old Margo Hovhanisyan. "We sold everything to buy medicines and then we realized that it was a completely different disease."

Doctors say the disease is tularemia, an ailment that effects the digestive system.

"Tularemia is a disease that is transmitted to people from animals, mainly from gnawing animals such as field and home mice, water rats," explains deputy head of the State Anti-epidemic Sanitary Department Ghazaros Hakobyan. "Our researches showed that drinking water became the cause of outbreak in Fantan village."

The specialist says germs of tularemia were detected in drinking water and in samples taken from mice roaming nearby.

Three members of Margo Hovhanisyan's family are sick.

"Today we can certainly say that the cause of the epidemic's outbreak and spread was drinking water flowing down to Fantan from Gutana Mountain. Numerous mouse holes were found near the source of that water," says Hakobyan. "Most likely, bodies of field mice infected with tularemia were in the water reservoir and they became the cause of the disease."

Medical specialists say that local authorities must bear responsibility for the incident as they should have provided sterility and safety of the drinking water's supply, cleaning the acquaduct from time to time.

Water reaches Fantan via deep troughs. Villagers say they don't remember when the troughs were last cleaned.

One villager says the outbreak started soon after pumps that kept water moving through the system were shut off due to unpaid electricity bills.

Head of Fantan village Valeri Ivanyan assures that he, himself, cleaned the water containers and that it was not possible there could be an infection like that there.

Khachik has been sick for 40 days..

"I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to help villagers," says Ivanyan. "Villages living in such difficult social conditions cannot pay 288,000 drams (about $500) monthly for getting water using pump technology and as a result of that we had to use naturally flowing water of Gutana Mountain. It is incomparably cheaper. Maybe they will help us?"

But before expecting help to come the situation remains strained in Fantan.

"My son is very seriously sick," says Zoya Barseghyan, looking at her 24-year old son Khachik. "We took him to Yerevan, however, 40 days have passed but nothing changed. Now we have only debts and hopeless days to spend."

Specialists of the Ministry of Healthcare assure that tularemia can be cured in 10 days with the help of antibiotics. But if the treatment fails, a patient could experience serious disorders in kidneys, liver and lymph glands.

"It will take 15 days to find out if the epidemic has died away. In any case all measures are undertaken for avoiding repeating such incidents in the future," says Hakobyan.

Valeri Ivanyan says he personally cleaned the water ducts.

Hakobyan says villagers have been vaccinated, that water purification tablets have been distributed and that water is now being trucked in to Fantan.

But one villager says the water is no longer being brought.

"It's the third day there is no water," says villager Zina. "For the first two days they had been bringing water by cars then they forgot about it and now each family is carrying water on foot from dawn to dusk from Charentsavan, which is located three kilometers away from the village. So, it's not clear yet what will be with people, who will answer for this is unclear as well."

Head of the village assure that everything can be supervised and in the nearest future the village will return to its normal life.

However, villagers unanimously agree that the village has been discredited as a result of tularemia.

"All those who are not from our village, avoid meeting us; they say that all of us are infected," they say. "And today we have two problems. First one is water and the second one is that we can sell neither milk, nor matsun (yogurt). We aren't even treated normal by other people. When we say we are from Fantan village, everybody close their doors."


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Day of Remembrance

May 9 is Victory Day, when Armenia remembers its war veterans with ceremonies that include laying carnations and standing in formation near the Eternal Flame above Yerevan.



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