Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Hungary warns Santa Claus to get flu jab amid epidemic

Father Christmas and child, file pic
In Hungary, Mikulas delivers gifts to children on 6 December

Father Christmas should get a flu jab before delivering gifts to children this year, Hungarian authorities warn.

Vaccination is strongly advised if the traditionally rotund mince pie-eater is elderly, overweight or chronically ill.

Santa has been warned to avoid kissing children or shaking their hands to stop the illness spreading amid a nationwide epidemic, health officials said.

The number of flu cases in the country leapt by 22,100 in a week, they said, partly due to the H1N1 influenza virus.

"For Santa Clauses, prevention is especially important as they meet lots of children in early December, and therefore they face a high risk of infection," Hungary's state health authority said on its website, Reuters news agency reported.

Mikulas visit

"If Santa Claus is elderly, overweight or has a chronic illness, and therefore belongs to a high risk group concerning the flu... then getting a vaccination against the flu is particularly important," it added.

Mikulas, as he is known locally, visits schools and public places in Hungary on 6 December - St Nicholas' Day.

Traditionally accompanied by an angel and a demon, he calls on children to entertain him with a song or poem.

If the child has been good during the year, they receive a gift in return, but if they have been bad, they end up with a lump of coal, a wooden spoon or a raw onion.

At homes around the country, children put boots beside their windows in the hope of waking to find them filled with gifts from Mikulas.

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