Swine flu outbreak gives Bengaluru chills

The rain means one thing in Bengaluru: mosquitoes. 46 cases of H1N1 have been reported in the city in a single week, causing concern. Infections like dengue and chikungunya, also transmitted through mosquitoes, are a very real danger. Private hospitals have been asked to record all swine flu cases on a government portal, for authorities to work on preventing the spread of the disease. Authorities say there is no need to panic, for no acute cases or deaths have been reported. Even so, citizens need to take strict precautions to ensure that mosquitoes don't get a chance to breed. It’s also crucial to seek treatment as soon as symptoms appear, for they resemble those of a regular flu but can be deadly. Abilash Mariswamy reports

The  monsoon has, as always, led to a surge in viral infections in the city. Long queues of people suffering from symptoms of dengue, chikungunya, and H1N1 are now often seen at clinics and hospitals.

The spurt in H1N1 with 46 cases reported in just a week from September 29 to October 5 in the city has left  doctors worried.  Going by the health department  as on October 15,  2,426 people have tested positive for dengue,  1878 for chikungunya and 524 for H1N1 across the state since January 1.  Bengaluru alone has seen 131 H1N1 cases, and six people have died from the disease across the state

The city’s Fortis hospital treated 16 cases of H1N1, 13 of dengue and three of chikungunya in September.  Seeing the rise in the infections, doctors are keen that people watch out for symptoms of swine flu like  cough, fever, runny nose, bodyache, sore throat, fatigue, and chills. They warn that the symptoms of chikungunya and dengue include loss of appetite, nausea, severe pain in the eyes, skin rash, headache, swelling in the joints and rapidly falling platelets (white blood cells).

Dr. Pratik Patil, consultant, infectious diseases at Fortis Hospital says as flu is caused by the influenza group of viruses that spread through direct exposure to respiratory secretions and indirectly by fomites, vaccines can help contain it. “Everyone can take them.  The vaccines need to be taken every year as the flu virus rapidly changes and the vaccine is modified accordingly annually,” he says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in fact, recommends an annual vaccination for children between six months and five years of age, elderly individuals (over 65), pregnant women,  individuals with chronic medical conditions and health care workers.  “H1N1, which affects humans, is highly contagious and can spread through human contact. The patients’ incubation period is usually for three to four days and the disease can last for seven to 10 days or more. The recovery time may be longer if the patient is also suffering from pneumonia. The preventive measures  are staying home and reducing direct contact with humans,  drinking plenty of fluids and covering your mouth with a tissue while coughing or sneezing,”  says  Dr. Shylaja Shyamsunder, consultant, internal medicine, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals.

 While chikungunya is also a viral fever, it is transmitted by a mosquito and is accompanied by severe bodyache and fever, which can last upto a few weeks and severe joint pain, which lasts for four to six weeks or more. “It is essential to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in freshwater and to keep the environment clean to prevent this disease,” the doctor stresses.

With dengue and chikungunya being mosquito-borne diseases, there is no vaccine available for them, but both are easily preventable, says Dr Patil. “Mosquito control measures like destroying their breeding sites and insecticide sprays help in reducing their number,” he adds, strongly recommending that along with mosquito nets and repellents, people should wear full-sleeved shirts and long pants to prevent mosquito bites. 

Tamiflu distributed, 3k houses surveyed
While the health department claims it is taking adequate measures to prevent the rise of communicable diseases, a large number of people continue to test positive for them across the state.  Experts blame the absence of a good public health system and involvement of the community in preventing the diseases.
Says Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, public health doctor and researcher, “When the government is aware that these diseases see a rise at a certain time of the year  it should take early precautionary measures like educating the people and holding community plays to prevent them from dying from such simple treatable diseases.” Unfortunately,  primary health centres (PHCs) and district health hospitals are not able to treat such diseases properly, she regrets. “Private hospitals are doing good business as more and more people are going to them for help,” Dr. Karpagam adds. Ask Bengaluru Urban district surveillance officer, Dr. Sunanda, and she concedes that the present outbreak is one of the biggest in recent years. “The virus has already spread and those who are susceptible to it are falling ill. We have directed all the hospitals to have sufficient stock of medicines and to ensure proper diagnosis of patients across the state,” she says, also revealing that health officials have distributed over 150 antiviral and Tamiflu tablets in the worst affected areas and are doing door to door surveys to prevent a recurrence of the fevers. “Around 3,000 houses have been surveyed  to detect H1N1 cases in the city till now,” she adds. Dr. S Sajjan Shetty, joint director, communicable disease, department of health and family welfare too observes with concern that there has been a serious rise in these diseases, especially in September. “We plan an awareness campaign in anganwadis (child care centres) to prevent the outbreak of such diseases,” he assures, adding that the health department is conducting a drive across the city and destroying the mosquito larvae by identifying and cleaning their breeding places. While the officer advises people to take precautions and  keep their environment to avoid falling ill, Dr. Srinivas Gulur, district health and family welfare officer, (Bengaluru Urban) warns against panicking as  no acute cases have been identified so far and no deaths have been reported across the state. “We have asked all private hospitals to enter the details of their cases on the government portal so that we can trace them and ensure there is no  spread of the virus,” he adds.

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