Swine Flu or H1N1 strain of influenza a virus started off as an outbreak in Mexico way back in March/April of 2009 and unlike many other outbreaks spread like wild fire and was declared a Pandemic by the WHO in June, 2009.
We, in India, also faced the brunt of this disease in 2009 and 2010. This viral disease spreads from person to person by droplet spread like sneezing, coughing and contact with respiratory secretions. Crowded places and winter months, like most respiratory illnesses, are conducive for its spread and manifestation.
Soon after the spread of this disease WHO came up with measures to prevent this disease and treat specific antiviral agents like Tamiflu. Surprisingly a vaccine was made available in a short period of time and was extensively used especially among health care givers.
The symptoms of the illness are very similar to the common flu and include cold, cough, body ache and fever. In addition, some people may have nausea vomiting and other gastrointestinal symptoms. In serious cases of progression there is severe breathing problems, with respiratory failure and may require ventilator care and some may even succumb to the illness.
Since it is difficult to distinguish the symptoms from the common flu, tests like rtPCR for virus in respiratory secretions may be needed.
The disease which caused a lot of anxiety in 2009 and 2010 seemed to have become quiescent in the later years, because of awareness programs, public health measures, and innate immunity in many people with subclinical infection and vaccinations in the high risk population. However, it seems to have has now raised its ugly head again especially in Delhi, Rajastan, Telangana and a few other places, resulting in a few deaths.
The need of the hour is awareness, vigilance, public health measures, appropriate medical care but certainly not panic. Common sense measures like people with cold and cough staying away from schools and public places; people with progressive illness seeking medical attention, vaccination of high risk individuals who are likely to be exposed. Public health measure like using a kerchief or tissue when sneezing, frequent washing of hands and use of masks, when dealing with these patients would decrease the spread of illness.
As always, it is another never ending battle between Mankind and Viruses; be it Ebola, Swine Flu, SARS or Viral Encephalitis. Eternal vigilance, a strong public health care system and an educated public are the only ways to fight this battle.
Dr. H Sudarshan Ballal, MD, FRCP (London)
Chairman – Med Adv Board & Medical Director – MHEPL,
Manipal Hospitals, 98, HAL Airport Road, Bangalore-560017
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the writer and not of the hospital.