Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called on the European Union to help neighbouring Ukraine fight a flu epidemic and a growing number of H1N1 cases, saying its further spread is threatening the wider bloc, according to Reuters.

Ukraine shut schools, banned public meetings and restricted travel earlier this month in an attempt to combat the H1N1 flu epidemic, which has also caused public concern in Poland.

"The character of this threat demands that rapid action be undertaken at the European Union level," Tusk wrote in a letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who holds the rotating EU presidency.

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"This will serve both the interests of Ukraine, and the EU itself," he said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

Tusk urged Brussels to hold an extraordinary meeting of the EU`s health council to identify Ukraine`s needs and discuss availability of vaccines.

Poland`s Health Minister Ewa Kopacz said there had so far been 185 cases of swine flu and around 41,000 of seasonal flu diagnosed in the biggest ex-communist EU member. There have been no deaths.

"I don`t understand why we are all so worried about a rare flu that has a much more gentle course than the regular one. I don`t understand why people do not take vaccines for seasonal flu," she told a Polish television channel.

But news broadcasts showed Poles lining up at pharmacies to get sanitary masks which were quickly sold out in a sign of growing public concern.

Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer told Reuters that Warsaw was awaiting a reply from Brussels, and said he feared the epidemic could spread rapidly in eastern Europe.

"Poland has already organised quite reasonable help for Ukraine, but in a split second we will see swine flu in Belarus, we are already hearing something about Romania," he said.

Shipments of medicine and medical equipment have been leaving Poland for Ukraine in recent days. A growing number of swine flu cases have also been reported in Germany and Slovakia, which likewise share borders with Poland.