Not ready for swine flu

With over 200 deaths in Jan­uary alone, ex­perts say In­dia needs more re­search on the H1N1 virus be­fore it is in a po­si­tion to com­bat the flu

Down to Earth - - HEALTH - JY­OT­SNA SINGH |

I2009, when swine flu hit the N coun­try for the first time health ex­perts were clue­less about the new virus.Within eight months it killed around 1,000 peo­ple. Five years later, In­dia is still un­pre­pared to com­bat the virus. In Jan­uary alone, the virus has in­fected about 2,500 and killed more than 200 peo­ple.

Telangana, the first state where swine flu started to spread in early De­cem­ber last year, is the worst af­fected.Till Fe­bru­ary 5, at least 715 peo­ple in the state have con­tracted the in­fec­tion and 34 suc­cumbed to it. Ra­jasthan has re­ported 440 cases of in­fec­tion and 68 deaths. Though the gov­ern­ment is re­luc­tant to call it a pan­demic,the rise in the num­ber of swine flu cases has cre­ated panic. Adding to that is lack of un­der­stand­ing of the virus and its spread.

Union health min­is­ter J P Nadda has de­puted se­nior-level health teams to Telangana and Ra­jasthan to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion and as­sist in man­ag­ing the vi­ral in­fec­tion. The Na­tional Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol (ncdc) in Delhi has also en­hanced sur­veil­lance for in­fluenza-like ill­nesses and se­vere acute re­s­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions. It is pro­vid­ing lab­o­ra­tory sup­port for testing and a 24x7 out­break mon­i­tor­ing cell is at­tend­ing to public queries on swine flu.

The rea­son for the high num­ber of deaths in Ra­jasthan is lack of aware­ness. “Pa­tients show up at a later stage when the dis­ease is tough to man­age.Even nurses and doc­tors are not well aware of how to treat swine flu in Ra­jasthan,” says Naren­dra Gupta, a Chit­tor­garh-based physi­cian and con­vener of Jan Swasthya Ab­hiyan’s Ra­jasthan chap­ter. The state also has no ap­proved lab­o­ra­tory and sam­ples are sent to Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel Chest In­sti­tute (vpci) in Delhi. In con­trast, Hy­der­abad, the worst af­fected dis­trict of Telangana, has two gov­ern­ment-ap­proved vi­rol­ogy lab­o­ra­to­ries.

Is it the weather?

In Telangana, the spread is linked to dip­ping tem­per­a­tures.“We think the spread is linked to record low tem­per­a­tures this year. A proper study is yet to be done,” says L Naren­dranath, the of­fi­cial spokesper­son for swine flu in Telangana.

Telangana faced se­vere cold this win­ter. It saw its cold­est day on De­cem­ber 20,2014, when tem­per­a­ture dipped to 3.9oC in Adi­l­abad dis­trict. Av­er­age tem­per­a­ture

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