While scientists debate how best to battle the swine flu outbreak that has affected more than 13,000 people and caused 774 deaths in India within seven weeks, those who have watched friends or family succumb to the feared viral infection are still coming to terms with their ordeal.
“Just a month ago, my mother was fussing around the house, helping with my cousin’s wedding preparations. Now our relatives are here again, this time to mourn her death,” says Yogesh Yadav, 27, who lost his mother Bhagwati Yadav to swine flu at Bhopal’s Hamidia Hospital on February 8.
She was only 47 years old.
“When she developed a cold during the wedding, we didn’t take it very seriously. But then things changed,” says Yadav. He is still struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death.
“My mother’s condition worsened quickly. So we took her to a private hospital where an X-ray was performed. Suspecting swine flu, the doctors told us to take her to Hamidia Hospital. We took her there on Saturday morning, where her blood was tested,” says Yadav, who works as a contractor with his father Shoba Ram Yadav.
Her condition improved on Saturday, but on Sunday it deteriorated quickly. “She died in the evening, even before the test results arrived,” says Yadav. “The result came two days later and she tested positive for H1N1. But it was too late,” he says, watching his father potter around outside their modest home, away from his friends who discuss the state government’s failure to check the infection.
The most difficult part for the family was being told to stay away from her bed after she died and to not remove her respiratory mask. “I was not even allowed to pay my last respects without a mask,” says Yadav.Watch: 5 swine flu myths you need to junk right now
India’s swine flu tally now stands at 13,000 cases and 774 deaths, which has sparked fears of drug and vaccine shortages in some states.
Madhya Pradesh is among the worst hit states, with 448 cases and 9 deaths till February 19. “Before our mother got sick, we were not aware about the swine flu outbreak in our area,” says Yadav.
He accuses the Madhya Pradesh government for underplaying the outbreak. “I didn’t even know what it was when my mother was diagnosed with it, but doctors at private hospitals clearly did and seemed scared to treat swine flu patients,” he says. “And because of this, many people like us lost precious time. If private hospitals had cooperated and guided people, many lives could have been saved,” he says.
Unlike Madhya Pradesh, states such as Delhi and the National Capital Region with higher public awareness and good public health infrastructure have recorded high cases but fewer deaths.
Noida-resident Anjali Agarwal, 34, developed a severe cold, headache, body ache and breathing problems after going out one evening two weeks ago.
“We went to Kailash Hospital in Noida, where I was told I had viral fever and I was asked to go home,” she recalls. The next day, Agarwal’s temperature shot up to 105. Worried, her family took her to Fortis Hospital in Noida. She was kept under observation for six hours there.
On February 10, when her breathing problems and temperature remained as is, the family insisted she get admitted to a hospital. She had developed classic symptoms: fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, headache and coughing, sore throat, diarrhoea and nausea.
“On February 12, Dr Ajay Agarwal, who was treating me, suggested that I should get myself tested for H1N1. My result came positive on February 14. I was also diagnosed with pneumonia,” says Agarwal, who runs a food products company with her husband in Noida.
She was terrified with the diagnosis. “I have nine-year-old twins,” she says. “Even while I lay sick in bed, I was worried that my children may have gotten infected.” Her husband Shashi Raj and son Abhinav got fever, but tested negative for H1N1.
Agarwal was put on the antiviral oseltamivir and antibiotics for co-infection and was asked to use a nebuliser to assist breathing. She was discharged from Fortis on February 17 after her condition became stable.
“I had nausea and could not eat anything when I was ill. Now, though the breathing problem has gone, I still haven’t got my appetite back,” she says.
Since the virus spreads through droplets expelled in the air while coughing or sneezing and from touching contaminated surfaces, Agarwal was advised to keep her children at arm’s length for a couple of days after discharge.
“I’m happy to be alive and my happiest moment was getting up from bed to hug them tight,” she beams.