One in four of India’s 574 confirmed swine flu cases are students, with infection spreading the fastest in schools. Within six weeks, swine flu has transited from airplanes to the classroom.
Worried that the thought of hospitalisation was keeping people away from getting themselves tested for H1N1 at government hospitals, the Union Health Ministry issued fresh guidelines that allow people to stay quarantined at home till they test positive for the virus.
Ironically, what works against the young and healthy students is their vigorous immune response, which starts an antibodies assault on the virus. In doing so, lung cells are inflamed, at times so much that they start leaking fluid, leading to collapse.
What adds to their vulnerability is that unlike people over 50 years, they have no immunity against H1N1, one of the many weakened forms of the 1918 Spanish flu virus that continued to cause seasonal flu before being wiped out by the H2N2 pandemic of 1957. So, while those born before 1957 have some immunity against H1N1, those born later remained unexposed to the virus, making them vulnerable, reports the US Centers for Disease Control.
Despite the rise in cases, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) India office said the pandemic continues to be moderate and young, healthy people are not at any higher risk of death.
“Of the 1,34,503 confirmed cases [across the world], there have been 816 deaths. So far, the death rate is low… In comparison, seasonal influenza is responsible for 5,00,000 deaths annually,” Dr SJ Habayeb, WHO representative to India, said.
It’s too early to say where the pandemic is headed — whether H1N1 will become more deadly or stay mild and ubiquitous — though past trends indicate that flu pandemics strike harder in the second wave.