Questions over govt claim on zero deaths from swine flu

State-run hospital saw 5 fatalities; doctors warn of a relapse in 2017

Questions over govt claim on zero deaths from swine flu

 The Department of Health and Family Welfare may be claiming that nobody died of H1N1 (swine flu) anywhere in Karnataka in 2016, but there were at least five fatalities from the disease in the government-run Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases alone, according to a reliable source.

The state reported just 105 cases of H1N1 in 2016 as against 3,565 cases the year before, says a report prepared by the department. It goes on to contend that there were no deaths in the outgoing year, while 2015 saw a staggering 94 fatalities.

A top source in the institute, which sees the majority of H1N1 cases, has contested the report, saying the hospital reported five swine flu deaths in 2016. Doctors say that while H1N1 cases had declined in 2016, there could be a relapse in the next year.

Dr Shashidhar Buggi, director of the institute, confirmed that the number of swine flu cases had come down this year. But he pointed out that the hospital saw cases throughout 2016 while in previous years, the cases were reported in certain months.
Nonetheless, he warned of the possibility of virus mutations and varied symptoms. “In most cases, it is usually self-limiting. The numbers may have come down this year, but there has to be constant surveillance and research,” he added.

Dr H Sudarshan Ballal, medical director, Manipal Hospitals, echoed him but mentioned an ominous trend. “Over the past years, we have seen that if there are very few cases in a year, the following years see an epidemic and the numbers go up drastically.”

He said people infected with the virus would have developed immunity against it. This immunity would last only for a short time. Either the virus’s virulence could change or a person’s immunity could come down, making them susceptible again. “If someone has had the flu, the body would have developed immunity the next time. But this would last only for a short period,” Dr Ballal said. “There is higher chance of the flu relapsing a few years later.” Personal hygiene, especially hand hygiene, is strongly recommended. “If you are sick, just stay at home,” he added.

Dr Ballal further said the number of viral arthritis cases went up in 2016. Dengue-like fever cases also saw an increase.

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