A day after shutting all schools, colleges and multiplexes in Mumbai, the civic authorities changed tack on Thursday saying there was no need to panic over swine flu.
Nearly half of the 161 people who tested positive for the H1N1 virus in the city did not even need hospitalisation. Just 27 remained in hospital, officials pointed out.
<b1>Across the country too, public health experts scrambled to allay fears as the toll rose to 21, with a teacher in Bangalore and a woman and a man in Pune being the latest victims.
Tuberculosis kills more people every minute, so why don’t people wear masks to stop infection? That’s how the country’s leading epidemiologists and public health experts reacted to fears about the H1N1 virus. Most of the swine flu victims either had secondary complications or were admitted too late, said health ministry officials in Delhi.
H1N1 has caused 1,77,457 infections and 1,462 deaths in 175 countries. That’s about 8 deaths in every 1,000 infections, according to World Health Organisation data.
“It’s a new flu virus, like thousands of new flu viruses that have come and gone,” said Dr Bir Singh, professor, community medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). “The virus is mild, has caused far fewer deaths than other diseases such as tuberculosis. Spending public health budget on a flu virus and burdening the health infrastructure when there are so many other killer diseases around does not make sense.”
The virus is going to be around and cause more infections in the months to come. It's time, the experts said, to learn to live with H1N1. “H2N2 and H3N2 were the common seasonal flu strains infecting humans and now there’s H1N1, which had been circulating in swine for three decades,” said eminent scientist Dr NK Ganguly, former director general Indian Council of Medical Research.
“It’s a flu virus, so people susceptible to seasonal flu are also susceptible to H1N1. The people dying are the same as those at risk from seasonal flu — infants, the elderly and people with existing diseases and compromised immunity,” said Ganguly.
“We must remember that the H1N1 virus is here to stay and we have to live in symbiosis with it. We cannot stay locked up at home. People are concerned and want more information, but they are not worried,” said Dr Singh.
In Mumbai, the health authorities are now trying to build “blanket immunity” in the community by giving Tamiflu to anyone who shows symptoms of H1N1.
“Even in UK, if a doctor sees that a patient has symptoms, he immediately puts him on Tamiflu. We can’t wait for the test report,” said Dr Jairaj Thanekar, Executive Health Officer of the civic body.
And it was not harmful to take the drug even if one tests negative for H1N1, claimed Sanjay Oak, director of medical education and KEM Hospital dean.
“Ten tablets of Tamiflu will not cause any harm,” he said.
The government declared a holiday on Friday for Mumbai and suburbs but home quarantine appeared to be the last thing on people’s mind as they prepared to enjoy the unexpected long weekend.
In Delhi, people accepted schools closing down without a murmur, but did not hesitate to visit multiplexes and malls with their friends and family.
And H1N1 is unlikely to affect the Maharashtra Assembly poll schedule as no political party had requested for postponement, said Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla.
“In fact, the matter did not come up for discussion… We’re keeping a close watch [on the pandemic],” said the chief election commissioner.