Stop screening for H1N1 at airports: WHO

Agency feels checking loses value when flu has hit community

Schoolchildren wear masks at a school where doctors perform examinations in Ahmedabad on Tuesday as the death toll due to swine flu in Gujarat rose to three. AFPHowever, WHO officials maintained that it’s a “political decision” that the government has taken and the UN health agency “respects” the decision.

Screening by doctors at airports and thermal scanners have limited effect in a country like India, said Jai P Narain, head of the communicable disease programme at the WHO’s south east Asian regional office.

But, the government is continuing with flu screening at 22 airports. Almost 49 lakh air travellers have so far been screened at the airports by a team of 225 doctors and 172 paramedics at 83 counters till Monday. Out of 2,026 positive reported cases, 773 were identified through entry screening.

According to Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Centre will buy 24 more thermal scanners for installation at various international airports.Four thermal scanners were imported last month and were installed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on a pilot basis. After this, the detection rate at the airports went up from 5 per cent to 20 per cent. However, the WHO advice is different. Depending on the H1N1 prevalence, the UN health agency has categories nations into three classes – (a) no cases (b) sporadic case and (c) nations where the virus is in the community.

Surveillance test at airports is useful for the first two categories. But it is of limited value in nations where the virus is in the community. Despite prodding WHO officials did not specify the category for India.

Salim Habayeb, WHO representative in India said airport screening is not India’s primary counter strategy. “Airport screening could have an added benefit,” he said. “H1N1 pandemic is unstoppable. Whatever has been reported so far is the tip of the iceberg. Containment is not possible,” Habayeb said. From the Mexico experience, it appears that viral infection is yet to reach its peak in the worse affected states like Maharashtra and Karnataka.

In rural Bengal

The swine flu virus has begun to gradually spread to rural Bengal with five new cases being reported from the rural areas, taking the total number of those infected to 53. Even as a high-level meeting to combat the disease was in progress at the state secretariat, one case each was reported from Midnapore, Howrah, and two from North 24 Parganas districts.

Orissa also registered its first two confirmed swine flu cases on Tuesday. The two have been identified as Ratikanta Nayak of Soro in Balasore district and Amit Kumar Singh of steel township of Rourkela.

No fresh deaths, says Centre

The Centre on Tuesday brushed aside rumours of fresh H1N1 deaths in Mumbai and Pune, reports DHNS from New Delhi. Till Tuesday, the death toll was 25 with 13 deaths in Pune, 5 in Bangalore and two in Mumbai. Deaths were also reported from Ahmedabad, Chennai, Vadodara, Nasik and Thiruvananthapuram. As many as 99 cases were reported on Tuesday with 20 each in Bangalore and Mumbai and 18 in Pune. In Karnataka new cases were reported in Udupi and Manipal. The total count stands at 2,026.

DH News Service

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