Travelling through Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport is a nightmare at the best of times, but with swine flu — oops, influenza A H1N1 — cases piling up, it’s become a health hazard for people like me.
Let me explain. I’m allergic to dust and various other organisms and particulates that thrive inside an aircraft. Simply put, aircrafts make me sneeze, not once, but in abandon. I sniff and sneeze through journeys and become as right as rain within minutes of disembarking.
The trouble was that I could not imagine explaining this to any one of the efficient yet formidable health personnel guarding the country against swine-flu invasion at its 21 international airports. I could well imagine a sneezing passenger brightening up their day and offering closure to lunchroom conversations running on the lines of… “Those chaps in Hyderabad think they can impress everyone by catching five infected people. We should nab at least one to prove we are working as hard.”
And trying they are. The eight confirmed swine flu cases are from 179 persons tested in India. Of these, 65 were stopped at airport screening, while others reported on their own when they developed symptoms.
Globally, there are 21,943 confirmed swine flu cases from 69 countries. There have been 125 deaths, 103 in Mexico, 17 in the US, three in Canada and one each in Chile and Costa Rica.Out of 170 cases, 62 were picked up at airports.
I did not want to be the 177th swine-flu suspect because that would have meant quarantine till tests declared me healthy. So I decided to do my homework and asked friends travelling from affected countries, mostly US and Europe, about how stringent the checks were.
A friend who travelled from New York and London — the US has 11,054 confirmed cases, and the UK 428 — at the height of the fright laughed it off. “Airports are no bother, except Delhi Airport. It's a mess here.”
I sneezed in trepidation and decided to take precautions. I popped antihistamines (anti-allergy pills) and stuffed my bag with tissues. In flight, I tried to sneeze as quietly as I could to ensure the flight attendants would not mark me as a swine-flu suspect and give me up at the airport. I scanned the form and filled it with relief when I found it did not list sneezing as a symptom for swine flu. I debated whether it would be wiser to sneak through the check-point or look the health worker in the eye while handing over the form.
The more I thought, the more I sneezed. But I still couldn’t make up my mind. I did, however, conclude that I sucked at subterfuge. I should not have worried. The person at the health counter turned out to be a benign lady who asked me nicely if I had any of the listed symptoms. I honestly replied I didn’t and thanked God she hadn't asked me if I was ill.
By then, I felt ill. The man at the immigration counter with a facemask hanging from one ear was even nicer. He grinned when I sneezed and asked me if I was okay. “Why aren’t you wearing the mask?” I asked instead. “I can barely breathe. Only five people have got the flu out of the thousands that arrive everyday. I would rather take my chances with the virus than suffocate,” he said. I stopped sneezing just about then.