Flu pandemic

Swine flu has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is the first flu pandemic in 41 years. The flu’s spread over geographic regions has been rapid. Since its detection in late April in Mexico, it has spread to 74 countries and infected 29,000 people.Health authorities are saying that there is no need to press the panic button. The declaration of a swine flu pandemic is reflective of its geographic spread and is not indicative of the lethality of the virus. It simply means it is a very widespread infection, freely transmitting on a global scale. That the virus is not a serious killer is evident from the fact that the global death toll from the flu stands at around 140 so far.

This is a small number especially when one compares it to the 500,000 who die of ordinary flu annually. The current pandemic, say health officials, seems to be causing mild illness in most of those infected.  The death rate has decreased significantly in recent weeks and there is no need to panic.

That said, health authorities need to be on high alert. The 1968 flu pandemic killed around a million people world-wide. An underestimation of the virus could leave governments ill-equipped to cope with a severe health crisis. There is the possibility of the virus lying low for the next few months in the northern hemisphere, mutating into a more dangerous form and return with a vengeance during winter here.

India, which seemed to have escaped the virus’ attention through April and May, is now among the swine flu-hit countries. Some 30 people have tested positive for the virus over the past fortnight. Government officials claim that  the country has adequate stocks of Tamiflu, the drug effective against the H1N1 virus. But government measures alone are not enough to fight the pandemic. Public co-operation is essential. Reports of two people in Delhi – an influential businessman and his mother – refusing quarantining in a government hospital are worrying. By staying at home they were jeopardising the health of others and such irresponsible behaviour should be dealt with sternly.

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