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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Doctors Check Dagestan Travelers for Cholera

As soon as the train from Dagestan chugged into Kursky train station Thursday afternoon, two physicians boarded the carriages to check whether any of the passengers had come down with cholera.

The train's chief conductor, Dzhamal Beishirov, declared that none of the estimated 500 passengers had reported ill during the 46-hour trip from Makhachkala, capital of the mountainous republic in southern Russia. Physicians checked with him four times along the way, he added.

Since last week, doctors have been checking all six daily trains coming through or from Dagestan to Moscow, in an effort to keep a cholera epidemic that rages in Dagestan and neighboring Chechnya from spreading to the rest of Russia.

Airplane arrivals from Dagestan are also being inspected, according to Marina Vidisheva, spokeswoman for the Russian Sanitary-Epidemiological Survey, the agency in charge of battling contagious diseases.

So far, four arrivals from Dagestan and eight Russians returning from Rwanda have arrived in Moscow carrying cholera, but health officials have yet to report any case in which the disease had been caught in the capital.

On Tuesday, health officials in Dagestan ordered the inhabitants of the 17 worst-hit regions to undergo medical tests before they can leave their area, and obliged all citizens to show a health certificate before they left the republic.

The inspections and limited quarantine form a belated response to a flare-up of cholera that started in June. According to Vidisheva, 16 died, 526 people fell ill and 410 tested positive in Dagestan to the intestinal disease, which causes diarrhoea and can kill people in a matter of hours. In neighboring Chechnya, at least four have died and 34 have fallen ill.

The check-up Thursday appeared impressive but far from waterproof. Raisa Anishkina, one of the two physicians who checked the afternoon train, said her check-up was necessary but added that infected people can come down with cholera as late as five days after they are infected.

Zhanna, a Dagestani businesswoman from Kizilyurt who declined to give her last name, said she had managed to make it all the way to Moscow without a health certificate, even though she had been asked to show one four times.

"I just said to them: Do I look ill?" she said. "There are no cases in my town. Why do I need a certificate?"

Many passengers, Zhanna said, had bought fake certificates. "You can get as many stamps as you want. That's how it's done at home," she said.

Moscow newspapers Thursday criticized the government for doing too little too late, but health officials disagreed.

"The government, it seems, demonstrates complete inaction and puts the lives and health of many people at risk," the authoritative and moderately pro-government daily Izvestia said.

"It's probably enough," countered Stephan Samoyloff, a staff physician at the American Medical Center. "Cholera is not that easy to get from someone else."

If anyone entered the train infected, he was unlikely to make it all the way to Moscow without showing symptoms, Samoyloff said.

Vidisheva rejected newspaper warnings that the epidemic is about to hit Moscow. She said that the high quality of the city's water purification system all but rules out the bacteria's spread through drinking water.

The city's chief physician, Nikolai Filatov, last week ordered the dose of chlorine in the city's drinking water to be increased.

Segodnya newspaper reported Thursday that local health officials have located the cholera virus in the Don and Bityug rivers in the Voronezh region, and in the Suzdal lakes in the northwestern Vyborg region. They immediately prohibited swimming and fishing but said the bacteria is unlikely to be virulent.