Maharashtra has witnessed more swine flu cases and deaths in the first three months of this year as against the same period in the past five years. The number of cases (4,625) is more than double those reported between 2010 and 2014 put together (1,978). There have been 416 deaths, which is also the highest since 2010.
Before this year, in 2010, when the disease was at its peak, there were 1,426 swine flu cases and 147 deaths reported across the state.
Public health experts said the record number this year is surprising. “This period [January to March] is not considered conducive for the transmission of H1N1 virus. But if you look at the latest figures, this view does not hold true. The virus is getting smarter and surviving in different weather conditions,” said Dr Pratit Samdani, physician, Breach Candy Hospital.
The World Health Organi-zation (WHO) had declared swine flu a public health emergency and called it a pandemic (affected countries and continents at the same time) in 2009, when 5,278 cases and 268 deaths were recorded in the state. In India, the first case was reported in Hyderabad in May 2009.
A state health department official admitted that the outbreak this year was unexpected. “During the pandemic period, the disease was completely new for the public health department as well as doctors and so it was challenging to treat patients,” said the official. “This year, the number of cases increased suddenly, not just in Maharashtra, but across the country.”
Between January and February 22 this year, 14,673 cases and 841 deaths were reported across India, according to the Union health and family welfare ministry. Maharashtra is among the five states, along with Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi and Telangana, which has seen the most number of swine flu cases this year.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study had stated that the H1N1 virus in circulation in India has mutated, which explains the virulence. However, the National Institute of Virology, Pune, which is a premier institute of research on influenza under the Indian Council of Medical Research, denied any mutation.
“There is a need to look at the environmental factors, which could be responsible for the change in the transmission cycle. Most outbreaks were reported pre- and post-monsoon. The change in virus, first, reflects clinically and hence there is a strong suspicion that the virus is mutating. We can witness more such outbreaks,” said Dr Om Shrivastav, director, infectious disease department, Jaslok Hospital, Peddar Road.
YEAR* CASES DEATHS
2010 1,426 147
2011 12 3
2012 286 9
2013 242 43
2014 12 2
2015 4,625 416
* January to March