While looking at the above simple statistics, I wonder why we all fail to create a fraction of such awareness campaign for other almost equally infectious diseases in India, like malaria, tuberculosis, measles, and diarrhoea.
It is important to note, WHO reports that the seasonal influenza causes about 250,000 deaths per year. Deaths due to some other communicable diseases are also very significant and are as follows:
1. Tuberculosis: 365,000
2. Measles, Diphtheria: 287,000
A mad rush for H1N1 screening and test:
Due to such scare and panic, only in Mumbai 3,768 persons showed up for H1N1 screening in various Government hospitals just in one day on August 11, 2009 between 9 am and 5 pm. After screening all these people, only 448 individuals were identified for H1N1 test and only 14 of them were quarantined.
Awareness and preventive guidelines are necessary – without creating a mass hysteria:
Adequate awareness and preventive guidelines are absolutely necessary for any such disease without creating panic. Has H1N1 infection been used as a competitive tool, just as politicians very often do, to achieve relative competitive prowess by some? Highlighting each death due to H1N1 infection as administrative inefficiency and by creating a public scare in that process, no meaningful public health purpose can possibly be served, excepting perhaps attracting the eyeballs.
‘Swine Flu’ – reported to be a very low fatality disease:
2009 ‘Swine Flu’ pandemic is indeed a global outbreak of a new type of virus identified in April 2009 as H1N1. This strain of Flu virus is believed to be a mutation of four types of Flu viruses, one is usually endemic in human, the second one is endemic in birds and the other two are endemic in pigs or swine. This virus like many other infectious diseases, is usually transmitted from human to human.
The incidence worldwide:
Worldwide, out of over 1,62,380 H1N1 positive cases in 168 countries, 1,154 deaths have taken place as of August 4, 2009. Against this number 250,000 deaths per year take place due to seasonal influenza, as stated above . This vindicates that the fatality rate of this disease is indeed quite low, as of now. This percentage may even be lower, if those deaths are excluded, which were due to other conditions and complications not directly related to H1N1 infection.
All countries by and large, are affected by the ‘Swine Flu’ pandemic. WHO’s America’s region, where the outbreak was first detected, reports highest number of deaths with 1,008, followed by 65 deaths by its South-East Asia region, 41 deaths in Europe and 39 in Western Pacific region.
‘Swine Flu’ – reported to be a self limiting disease:
It has been reported that ‘Swine Flu’ is mostly a self-limiting disease. Clinical studies have confirmed that drugs like ‘Tamiflu’ reduce the duration of illness by a couple of days. The symptoms of the disease are moderate. Complete recovery from the disease has also been reported to be common with no future complications.
Panic related to H1N1 is unnecessary and avoidable:
Unfortunately ‘over-awareness’ and over communication of ‘possible fatality’ of the disease have lead to an unnecessary panic in India, especially, around the disease affected regions. Due to such panic people are running around with any slight ‘flu-like’ symptoms, crowding the H1N1 test centres and hospitals where the chances of getting infection by a non-infected person from others infected with H1N1 virus will be many times more.
Strain on scarce medical resources:
This mad rush, on the other hand, is putting unnecessary strain on the scarce medical resources of those towns and cities where the incidence of H1N1 infection is relatively more . Schools, shopping malls are being closed down and many important programs are being postponed. Migration of people from infected to non-infected places is further jeopardising the situation.
Both tangible and intangible losses created out of ‘Swine Flu’ scare are bound to be quite significant. Who will take the responsibility of creating this nightmare?
We have our usual ‘punching bag’, the Government of course, to keep on bashing for any such issues totally forgetting our own responsibilities, individually or collectively. There is a silver lining though. A sense of responsibility, at last, appears to be slowly dawning on to those who really matter. Those who had ignited this fire of fear are now trying to douse it by themselves and in the best way as they possibly can. Obviously after much damage has been done. I take it as ‘better late than never’. But the moot question will still haunt many. Have we learnt anything out of this artificial crisis created through a real panic of H1N1 infection? Was it necessary? Has it served any meaningful purpose to the common man in general?
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.