Spreading virus

The deadly H1N1 flu has been late in arriving in India but having done so is spreading rapidly. Eleven patients have tested positive for the H1N1 flu in the country. Cases have been reported so far from Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Delhi. While most of the H1N1 cases have been reported from individuals arriving in India from the flu-hit countries like the United States, cases of indigenous transmission of the virus are being reported as well. The situation in India does not warrant alarm yet as the number of cases here is still small compared to that in other H1N1 flu-hit countries. Besides, the behaviour of the virus outside Mexico, indicates it is a fairly mild strain of flu. However, the number of cases in the country is growing rapidly over the past few days and this is reason for caution and concern. The H1N1 virus is more infectious than most flu viruses. Doctors have warned that as the traditional flu season starts with the onset of the monsoons in India, indigenous transmission of H1N1 flu could increase substantially.

Health authorities are saying that India is equipped to deal with an outbreak of the epidemic. Indeed, airport authorities appear to have done a good job in identifying patients arriving with the flu in India. Confirmed cases have also been quarantined swiftly by health officials. Whether hospitals and health centres are adequately equipped to cope with a large number of H1N1 cases is debatable. Although a vaccine to prevent it is yet to be discovered, the virus is treatable. The government must take steps to educate the public on symptoms and measures for prevention of the flu.

Like most flu viruses, H1N1 virus spreads through droplets expelled by speaking, sneezing or coughing. Close contact with an infected person increases the risk of contracting it. Knowledge on how to prevent H1N1 infection is available but many in this country lack the means to take these precautions. The WHO has advised people to reduce time spent in crowded and closed environments. But how does one do so if one is living in an overcrowded setting such as a slum? Or travelling long distances by air?

Access to water and soap to ensure good personal hygiene to prevent infection is not available to many. So far, those infected by the virus belong to the more affluent classes.

The numbers infected can be expected to soar when it hits the poorer sections.

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