Spreading virus

Spreading virus

The death of a school girl in Pune from swine flu has made the threat from the pandemic real and immediate for the country. The girl had neither travelled abroad nor come into contact with anyone who had recently returned to the country or was diagnosed to have contracted the H1N1 virus. Infections have been reported from elsewhere too and there is already panic in some places. The Pune death shows that the virus can now transmit within the country and that the preventive measures must actively go beyond the screening of passengers at airports. Such screening has not been very effective as passengers are not very co-operative and the authorities are often unable to get results.

While it can continue, attention should now shift to fighting the problem within the country.

It is also a matter of worry that the virus, detected in India, is more virulent than suspected earlier. The Union health ministry has issued fresh guidelines about treatment in the wake of the Pune death and these include the need to report suspected cases to government hospitals for treatment. But in the Pune case, the private hospital where the girl was admitted reportedly misdiagnosed her ailment. Private hospitals should also be made part of the treatment programme by providing the necessary information about the disease and treatment methods to them. The government has claimed that it has got enough stocks of Tamiflu, the anti-viral drug used to treat the disease. Adequate supplies must be ensured, taking into consideration the fact that the virus is spreading fast. The vaccine for the disease needs to be produced and made available in large quantities within the country.

The WHO had issued an alert on the virus three months ago and last week it made a dire prediction that the virus might infect over two billion people all over the world in the next two years. Though only a small percentage of the infections lead to fatalities, the virus is poised to become a major public health problem in the coming months. The recent detection of a treatment-resistant strain of the virus in America and East Asia is also cause for concern. There is the need to intensify the campaign against the disease with information, diagnosis facilities and treatment methods being made readily available to all hospitals. The public should also be educated on the need to go in for immediate medical help on detection of symptoms.

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