Coping with Swine Flu in India

swine fluSwine flu has finally arrived in India.

So far 4 people have died and 782 people are confirmed to be infected with the virus and are undergoing treatment in designated government hospitals. The deaths have been in Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, while Pune seems to be the worst hit. Strangely, school children appear to be seriously affected and many schools have shut down for a week or more.

Last week when I was in Mumbai a colleague called up in the evening. His 8 years old daughter was having a high fever and flu like symptoms. He had taken her to Max Hospital in Saket in New Delhi and he had been referred by the paediatrician to a government owned facility in Malviya Nagar for suspected swine flu. ‘The doctor did not even touch her, heard us while we explained the symptoms and promptly referred us to the government hospitals for tests. The government hospital admitted her for observation and now we do not know what to do. I fear even if my kid does not have swine flu, she is likely to catch it in the hospital’  explained my colleague Vijay Jain.

Another colleague in Mumbai, who was coughing and sneezing, had a bad throat and a fever decided not to come to work for a few days.  He felt that it wasn’t right for him to put others in office at risk.

These are tough calls. It is difficult for doctors to diagnose Swine Flu from the symptoms a patient presents. If the flu like symptoms are a little severe thay have no choice but to refer patients to the designated hospitals for tests, which means a patient has to visit a hospital, which has confirmed cases of Swine Flu and is therefore exposed to the disease. It is really a catch 22 situation.

In this situation the best thing to do would be to avoid going to busy public places, which are closed, particularly malls, airports, cinema theatres and yes offices and schools.

It would also help not to panic if one develops flu like symptoms. Afterall flu, that is the normal flu is a lot more prevalent than the swine flu and kills many more people every year. Mortality rate due to swine flu is still quite low, less than 7 per thousand. Statistically this is not a big cause of concern.

The government on its part must involve some private hospitals in combating the epidemic. It would help if a few private hospitals were allowed to test blood samples for the disease and admit patients in secluded wards. Large private hospitals are certainly more than capable of maintaining the records, treating the patients and ensuring that the disease remains in check. Additional testing and treatment centres will also help in instilling greater confidence in the public.

The government must also embark on a public awareness campaign. It must use mass media to educate the public about the disease, its symptoms, diagnostic procedure, treatment and prognosis. While I have noticed some advertising, it is hardly adequate.

Finally, the media must behave responsibly. In a situation like this it is indeed easy to create panic and cause mayhem by irresponsible journalism. It is the duty of all journalists to report objectively without resorting to unnecessary sensationalism and devoting too much media space to stories related to the spread of the disease.

Last but not the least, let us spare a thought for folks in the medical profession. They are at great personal risk in handling infectious patients. However, this is part and parcel of their calling. They must take all possible precautions, while providing succor and care to all those who seek their helHospital,p.

At the end of the day all of us are at risk. It is really up to us to exercise caution and help in whatever small way we can to fight the disease.

Pic courtesy http://www.flickr.com

Some names have been changed to protect privacy

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