The world is all agog with the global spread of the swine flu. The outbreak first reported from Mexico has rapidly spread to the United States and Europe. Countries the world over are rushing to identify people with flu like symptoms and those who have a history of having been in Mexico or in certain parts of the United States in the recent past are being carefully screened. The airport officials have been alerted to be on the lookout for people with these symptoms and medical personnel have been stationed at the airports to screen travellers arriving from these parts of the world.
In India a person arriving from the US with flu like symptoms has been detained and admitted in an isolation ward in a local hospital in Hyderabad. The government is busy procuring millions of Tamiflu pills and the drug manufacturers are rushing to cater to this unexpected demand. The newspapers, TV and the digital media is busy putting out stories on swine flu, highlighting the emergency measures being taken the world over to combat the resurgent rogue virus. Theories are being propounded on the impact the virus is likely to have on the economies across the world. The general refrain seems to be as if the recession was not enough, we now have to deal with a real virus running amok.
If the issues at hand were not so real, one would have been forgiven to think that this was an extract from the latest Robin Cook thriller.
This afternoon as I was stepping out of The Lalit (formerly, the Intercontinental) in New Delhi I saw folks wearing masks in the lobby. Suddenly the threat seemed a lot closer and a lot more menacing. As I hurried out of the hotel I could not help wonder how susceptible we all are to a global scourge like this.
I do not know how well prepared we in India are in handling a marauding virus like this. The Hindustan Times has been reporting that our government as always is fast asleep and that we are in the midst of a general election isn’t helping things. Calls made by intrepid newspaper journalists to the ‘helpline’ set up by the government yielded ignorant and angry responses and even a fax tone!
The government hospitals too appear to be in a disarray. Surprisingly most healthcare professionals including junior doctors are not fully aware about the disease, its diagnosis, treatment and transmission. While the media appears to be going berserk, there is no advertising or proper and organised dissemination of information about the disease. If things were to continue like this and God forbid cases of the dreaded flu show up I suspect, we will have widespread panic.
I would reckon that the need of the hour is for everyone to remain calm. It would be best to try and get authentic information about the disease, its symptoms, its course and the available treatments. The medical fraternity has a huge responsibility on its shoulders in ensuring that it follows correct protocol in managing the disease, handles patients with symptoms and suspect travel history in a professional manner.
And, while we all take reasonable precautions, let us hope that like SARS a few years before, this threat too will abate soon.
Pic courtesy http://www.flickr.com/nikboyce