Cabinet secretary takes stock of swine flu preparedness

35 swine flu deaths reported in past one month; Union health ministry trashes media reports of H1N1 virus becoming virulent

By Sonal Matharu
Published: Friday 13 April 2012

Following reports of swine flu deaths in three states, Cabinet secretary of India Ajit Kumar Seth called a meeting of secretaries of the Union ministries of health, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals in Delhi on Thursday to discuss their preparedness to deal with the disease outbreak in various states. This includes availability of anti-flu drug oseltamivir sold under brand name Tamiflu; these are supposed to be made available free of cost at government hospitals.
The meeting was called notwithstanding the Union health ministry’s claim a day before that the swine flu virus has not assumed a more virulent form as suggested in some media reports. Between March 1 and April 9 this year, 689 cases of swine flu caused by H1N1 virus have been reported from Maharashtra (392), Karnataka (104), Andhra Pradesh (66), Rajasthan (84), Tamil Nadu (28), Delhi (6), Gujarat (5) and one each in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. During the same period, 35 deaths have been reported, of which 15 were from Maharashtra, nine from Rajasthan, six from Andhra Pradesh, two from Gujarat and one each from Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

No need to panic: experts

The disease resurfaces every year though the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic over in August 2010. Experts say that there is no need to panic. “Beginning of March is the time when such viral diseases are common,” says Sarman Singh, head, department of clinical microbiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The temperature conducive for the H1N1 virus to circulate in the air is between 30°C and 34°C. When the temperature inches up to 35°C, all viral diseases disappear, he adds. Test results from the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune seem to confirm this. In the first week of March, almost 30 per cent of samples sent to the institute tested positive for H1N1 virus. The positive cases have reduced to approximately 10 per cent now.
The H1N1 virus survives if the temperature is low and humidity is high, says M M Gore, virologist in-charge of NIV at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. “Influenza is very common in India between January and April. There are other kinds of influenzas also present in the air. All may not be swine flu,” he says.

Media reports suggested that the H1N1 virus may have mutated to a more virulent form. But the health ministry trashed these reports. “There is no mutation to suggest change of virus to 'dangerous form',” a release from the ministry said. It added that the virus circulating in India and many other countries is treatable.

“The presently circulating strain of H1N1 pandemic virus belongs to clade 6 and 7. Clade is the medical terminology used to describe related organisms descended from a common ancestor. These clades are circulating in many countries. All are treatable with oseltamivir, which slows the spread of influenza (flu) virus,” clarifies NIV, Pune, in the release.

Antiviral drug oseltamivir is available free of cost at the government hospitals. The drug is also available with retail chemists licensed to keep Schedule X drugs. A central stockpile of about eight million doses of oseltamivir is also maintained, says the health ministry.

India experienced swine flu outbreaks between August and October, 2010 and again from May to July, 2011. The virus would continue to circulate in the years to come, says WHO.


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