Unseasonable rain may aggravate the nationwide swine flu outbreak with the northern, central and western parts of the country bearing the brunt, experts said on Monday.
Swine flu, the popular name for influenza A (H1N1) virus, has infected close to 21,000 people and killed more than 1,100 in India this year.
“With a drop in temperature and rise in humidity, cases are expected to rise,” said Dr Ekta Gupta, additional professor, department of virology, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS). “Influenza viruses thrive in low temperatures and survive for a longer period when the weather is cold and this holds true for influenza A H1N1 also.”
Symptoms of swine flu include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, headache, coughing, sore throat, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, etc.
A total of 20,795 cases and 1,115 deaths have been reported since January 1. In 2014, there were 937 cases and 218 deaths.
“The unseasonal rain has increased risk of H1N1 and the next 15 days are critical for us,” said Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
According to private weather forecaster Skymet, unusual weather conditions prevailing across the country have worsened the situation and with rainy days expected ahead, there is a possibility of a steep rise in the numbers.
“The temperature needs to rise and humidity levels need to fall for the virus to die and the rains have ensured it’s not happening anytime soon,” an official said.
In Madhya Pradesh, a coordination committee set up to monitor the situation appealed to people to not hug each other on Holi and avoid throwing coloured water on others as being wet and cold could increase the chances of falling sick. The disease has infected more than 1,070 people and killed 161 in the state.
Gujarat has reported 283 deaths – the highest in the country -- and 4,766 cases since January 1. On Monday, eight people died, while 152 new cases were registered by the state health department.
Swine flu has killed 267 and infected 5,610 in Rajasthan since January 1. “Government of India teams have visited four times and have said the method of treatment is fine. At present the death rate is 4.5% of the positive patients, which is less compared to other states,” said Rajasthan health minister Rajendra Rathore.
The disease spreads when infected people cough or sneeze and then others breathe in the virus or touch something with the virus on it and then touch their own face. People are contagious from one day before to seven days after they develop symptoms.
In Telangana, the virus has claimed 57 lives, with 1,532 people testing positive for it. The outbreak appears to be waning following a spurt in January after the state government took measures such as raising public awareness, providing medicine and ensuring all positive cases are immediately admitted and isolated for treatment.
Uttar Pradesh has reported 625 swine flu cases and 14 deaths since January 12, when the first case was reported. Cases have been recorded in 22 different districts across the state with 516 instances reported from Lucknow, including 11 on Monday.
The total number of swine flu cases in West Bengal this year has reached 131. Eight people, including three children, have died from the disease.
“Sixteen more people were down with H1N1 virus, according to reports of their throat swab samples tested at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Kolkata,” said state health secretary Moloy De.
Infection can be prevented by staying away from infected people and maintaining personal hygiene: washing hands frequently, avoiding contact with infected surfaces and covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing.
In Bihar, 37 cases of swine flu not requiring hospitalisation have been recorded since the first case was reported in Patna on February 24. Among those infected is a retired additional director general of police who recently returned from Hyderabad.
--With state inputs