People may be taking swine flu in their stride this monsoon as opposed to last year when they were hiding behind masks, but the number of cases is much higher this season.
While about 150 people in the state tested positive for swine flu between May and July last year, nearly 2,000 people were diagnosed with the infection between April and July this monsoon.
This is despite the fact that less people are being tested this year as doctors prescribe Tamiflu on suspicion without waiting for a test report.
Over the past week, around 500 swine flu cases and 63 deaths have been reported in Maharashtra. In the first week of August, 400 swine flu cases and 51 deaths were reported. This is much higher than the cases in other states, according to the centre’s figures.
In Mumbai, 135 cases and three deaths have been reported in the past fortnight.
The figures are even more striking considering the World Health Organisation had officially declared the H1N1 pandemic over last week. But state officials are not surprised.
“The number of H1N1 cases in July and August this year has been higher than in the same months last year. But it is a natural trend. It is natural for influenza viruses to peak again after the pandemic,” said Dr Pradeep Awate from the state influenza control cell.
He pointed that New Zealand is also witnessing a similar peak of H1N1 cases. Dr Abhay Choudhary, director of Parel’s Haffkine Institute, said the surge in cases could be because it is “raining more and for longer duration” this monsoon compared to last year.
“Virus outbreaks are common during monsoon and winter,” he said.
Shouldn’t we have seen a drop in cases in Maharashtra since most people would have developed immunity to the virus?
“Yes, but the virus is in the air so people are still getting infected,” said Dr G.T. Ambe, executive health officer of the BMC. Dr Awate said the virus is catching people who were not exposed to it last year. “Last year, the number of cases from rural areas was negligible, but now almost 50 per cent of cases are being reported from villages,” he said.
Experts said there is no cause for concern as the H1N1 virus is not an unknown entity anymore. “More people may be infected but there is no indication that cases are more severe or that mortality has increased,” said Dr Choudhary.