Basic precautions can stymie swine flu

Five years after it first made its appearance, swine flu is once again showing signs of an increased spread across the country. The health infrastructure in India comprising the entire chain of doctors, nurses, health care providers, pharmacies and health volunteers need to be on full alert as, in the past few weeks, swine flu has made its presence felt in various parts of the country. Reports say at least 112 cases of swine flu have been detected in Gujarat (of whom around 15 died), 173 cases around Hyderabad and 100 around Delhi in recent days.
 

Though called swine flu because the flu virus mutated by infecting pigs, it does not need these animals to spread, instead travelling from one person to another like any influenza. A simple sneeze throws up thousands of germs into the air. Also susceptible are door knobs, handles and tables which can get infected by the touch of a patient’s hand. Swine flu symptoms are almost similar to the common flu except for the occurrence of nausea and vomiting. What makes swine flu worrisome is that it can cause complications such as pneumonia in the young and old, leading to fatalities. Government health care providers and hospitals should educate people on ways to prevent getting infected which mainly involves washing hands with soap as frequently as possible. The other method to avoid getting a swine flu infection is through vaccination. Since there has been no pandemic since 2009-10 when some 45,000 cases were reported in the country, reports say that vaccine manufacturers have not produced large quantities of it. The government should ask pharmaceutical industries to make the vaccine in large numbers as the swine flu is poised to spread. 

Once infected with swine flu, there are antiviral drugs like Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza) which treat the infection quite effectively. Of course, there are some strains which are drug resistant and that is a challenge that the doctors have to figure out. Ultimately, the swine flu itself can be controlled if cleanliness measures are incorporated especially in congested, over-populated areas. People do need to be told to maintain personal hygiene including washing hands. Also, those who are afflicted by coughing and sneezing must make it a habit to use their hankies so that the germs are not floating in the air waiting for the unsuspecting.

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