Avoid panic


The sharp and sudden spurt in swine flu deaths in various cities has triggered a wave of panic across the country. Ten people, including children have died so far of swine flu.

Pune is the worst hit. It has recorded the highest number of swine flu cases and also tops the list of casualties with five deaths so far, followed by one death each in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Vadodara and Thane. Fearing the spreading virus, Pune has shut down. With some students testing positive for swine flu, schools in several cities including Bangalore have shut down. While the spread of swine flu is worrying, panic responses are not useful in combating its spread. Shutting schools, for instance, will not by itself prevent children from contracting the virus. Instead school authorities and parents have to act responsibly and not send children with fever to school. The Karnataka government should consider evoking the Epidemic Diseases Act, as have Delhi, Maharashtra and Haryana, to be able to tackle the spread of the virus more effectively.

A part of the reason for the panic is the lack of information among the public. Swine flu symptoms are similar to those of the more common influenza. Hence, people suffering fever and cough are running to hospitals to test for swine flu. Not surprisingly, hundreds are queuing up outside hospitals. There have been instances too of people with swine flu patients having died due to pre-existing illnesses and complications. But they too are being reported in a section of the media as swine flu deaths.

Karnataka has 85 confirmed cases of swine flu so far. The government has done well to designate a number of private hospitals in Bangalore to pitch in with testing and treatment of swine flu patients. Private laboratories could be roped in as well. But as important as providing more testing and quality treatment facilities, is the task of spreading awareness about the illness itself. The government should provide information to general practitioners and other health providers. Some are recommending the use of tablets like Tamiflu even before a patient tests positive for swine flu. They are calling for retailing its sale. Tamiflu is currently being dispensed by government and designated hospitals only. Retailing it will encourage its reckless prescription by doctors to patients.

This will reduce its effectivity against the H1N1 virus. Panic and knee-jerk responses can defeat our long-term fight against swine flu.

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