The swine flu virus has come back to haunt India after a gap of five years. Though the government is reluctant to call it a pandemic, the rise in the number of cases has created much panic among the general public. Amid reports of the death of a Swedish tourist in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur and fears that the virus may mutate into a deadly strain, the Centre, along with the various state governments, have begun to combat the virus on war-footing. In 2009 health experts were clueless about the new virus. Since then, however, no real progress has been forthcoming. As many as 216 people have lost their lives to swine flu across the country in the first ten days of February 2015, as the death toll due to the contagious disease mounted to 407 this year.
States like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Telangana have been worst affected, with many others coming under the scanner too. In the first two months of this year alone, Rajasthan has recorded 117 deaths due to the virus, while over 1,400 cases have been reported across the state. Union Health Minister JP Nadda has deputed several senior health officials to Telangana and Rajasthan to assess and assist the situation on the ground.
In Rajasthan, health experts have suggested that the high number of fatalities is due to a lack of awareness. Patients reportedly show up at the hospital when the virus has reached an advanced stage, thereby making it difficult to cure them. A lack of awareness about how to treat the virus among doctors and nurses has also been cited as a reason. Unlike Telangana, which has two government-approved virology laboratories, Rajasthan has no such facility and samples are sent to Delhi. Experts have also attributed the outbreak to weather conditions.
Studies conducted since 2009 have reportedly shown that the outbreak of swine flu, depending on the state, either occurs during the winters or during monsoons. Health experts, however, have been unable to unanimously agree on the correlation between the virus and weather conditions. To further compound matters, there is little clarity over when one should administer the vaccine available for swine flu. A study that was published in Emerging Infectious Disease journal suggested that the vaccination should be administered at different times for different regions, depending upon weather conditions.
The lack of clarity and data surrounding the disease is what will continue to hinder the Centre’s efforts at tackling the outbreak. Although the present dispensation at the Centre has claimed that it has procured enough quantities of Tamiflu, the anti-viral medication required to treat swine flu, developing nations such as ours continue to face acute shortages. Although panic is not a reasonable reaction to this outbreak, one must exercise great caution.