India is experiencing one of its worst swine flu seasons this year with over 6,298 cases reported till Thursday, a senior Indian health ministry official said on Friday. As compared to this, there were only 937 cases in the entire year in 2014. While 485 deaths have already been reported this year, the corresponding figures for 2014 were just 218, Additional Secretary, Health, A. K. Panda told the media.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by viruses that usually infect the respiratory tract of pigs, resulting in nasal secretions, cough, decreased appetite and listless behaviour. It is also characterized by the usual flu symptoms such as fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. It is transmitted by inhalation or ingestion of droplets containing virus from people sneezing or coughing, however it is not transmitted by eating cooked pork products. Research by scientists at Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has confirmed that the present strain of virus is the same as the 2009 strain and there has been no mutation yet.
“The incidence of swine flu and deaths happen during this time of the year. It does not happen in May, June or even March. It is inversely proportional to the ambient temperature. Once the temperature shoots up, the incidence comes down. There is no explanation and reason behind this spurt”, he adds.
The flu attack seemed relatively mild in 2011 and 2014, and even though the number of confirmed cases till now this year is the highest in five years, the death toll remains lower than the one in 2013, when swine flu claimed 699 lives.
The state of Rajasthan has seen the most casualties this year with 130 deaths, followed by Gujarat with 117. The states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have seen 56 and 51 casualties each. Other states which have been worst-affected are Delhi, Telengana and Tamil Nadu.
The increase in the number of cases could also be attributed to increased awareness and more people coming forward and getting tested for swine flu. The Health ministry of India has assured that they would be writing to all states to provide low cost testing facilities for swine flu.
Amidst growing fears that swine flu is spreading across the length and breadth of the country, experts have cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could worsen the condition of patients suffering from the disease. Dr Kamlesh Upadhyay, swine flu director of Gujarat and who is also in-charge of swine flu department in Civil Hospital said that taking antibiotics instead of anti-virals is lending the condition of H1N1 patients critical, reported an English Daily. He asked pregnant women, who are in high risk group with high mortality rates of the disease and their family members to take swine flu vaccination.
Also, increasing number of swine flu cases amongst doctors and healthcare workers across the country has prompted the Union health ministry to recommend vaccination for workers treating swine flu patients. This is the first time since 2010 that healthcare workers are being vaccinated against H1N1.
“We are fully equipped in terms of having sufficient medicines and testing equipment. We immediately respond to any demands made by states. We have enough stocks of medicine in Delhi. And we have already floated tenders to beef up stocks of medicines and diagnostic kits if need arises in the future,” said Union Health Minister J P Nadda. About 60,000 addditional doses of the anti-viral drug, Oseltamivir or Tamiflu has been ordered, along with 10,000 special masks and diagnostic kits for detection of swine flu as the number of affected, continues to rise.
Even as swine flu continues to ravage through the country, health ministry officials have insisted that there is no need to panic. Simple precautions such as washing hands regularly, sneezing with your mouth closed, avoid visiting sick people, wearing N95 masks, visiting a doctor if symptoms appear could go a long way in preventing spread of the infection.