North India may record 15,000 swine flu cases by February-end
North India continues to be in the grips of seasonal flu, with H1N1 (swine flu) cases likely to cross 15,000 by the end of February, which is more than the 14,992 cases confirmed in the entire year in 2018.
The National Centre for Disease Control has reported 14,803 confirmed cases across states till February 24, with 448 deaths. This is less than half the 1,103 deaths confirmed in all of 2018.
“There has been no change in the strain of the H1N1 virus in circulation. The number of cases reported this year is higher mainly because of two reasons: prolonged winters; and more people getting tested because of higher awareness,” said Dr Ekta Gupta, additional professor of virology, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS).
With 3,964 cases and 137 deaths, Rajasthan reported the most cases and deaths, followed by Delhi with 2,738 cases and seven deaths. In Delhi, 460 of the total cases were reported this week, which is lower than the 609 cases that were reported last week. While Gujarat is a close third in terms of number of cases with 2,726, in the number of deaths, 88, it is the second highest after Rajasthan.
Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have higher death rates, with 43 of the 199 people who tested positive for H1N1 dying in MP, and HP recording 256 cases and 32 deaths.
“H1N1 is the predominant strain that is causing 70%-90% of seasonal flu infections. Usually, there is an increase in the number of cases reported when the structure of the virus changes and people have no immunity against it. We haven’t observed that. The other reason could be an increase in the pool of un-immunised people, due to migrations and new births,” said Dr Nivedita Gupta, senior scientist, Indian Council of Medical Research.
India experiences a second peak of seasonal flu infections during the monsoons.
“In India, especially north India, seasonal influenza peaks during the monsoons and in the winter months. But it has been observed that if the numbers are high during the one peak, the numbers are lower in the next. This is because most of the population gains immunity when there is a spurt in infections,” said Dr Nivedita Gupta.
In case of a fever, doctors suggest taking rest at home as seasonal influenza is a self-limiting disease. However, kids aged below five, old people above the age of 65, pregnant women and people with other conditions like diabetes, hypertension, or chronic lung, liver or kidney should consult a doctor and take oseltamivir if needed. Very small percentage of people with H1N1 need to be hospitalised. One should look out for red flags such as difficulty breathing, sputum with blood, or discolouration of skin, lips and nails.
“Flu vaccine has to be administered annually, so cannot be made a part of the national programme. But people who can afford it should get vaccinated as it only protects you against the flu and makes symptoms milder but also lowers risk of outbreaks,” Gupta said.