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A year after it struck, H1N1 could strike again

With drug easily available now, incidence may be less, say doctors

TODAY, a year after the dreaded H1N1 Influenza first surfaced in Bangalore on June 13, 2009, things seem much calmer. Deccan Herald spoke to some doctors who were in the thick of action during the H1N1 Influenza scare last year in Bangalore to find if the City is safe from the virus.

There may still be cases of H1N1 deaths and people testing positive, but the scale of incidence has significantly come down in the last few months, throwing up a double-barrelled question: was the flu hyped or has the virus become less severe? 

Deccan Herald spoke to some doctors who were in the thick of action during the H1N1 Influenza scare last year in Bangalore to find if the City is safe from the virus.

“There was an outbreak last year. The only difference between this and the last influenza outbreaks is that we have a drug now,” said Dr V Ravi, Head of Neuro-virology department, Nimhans. 

The Nimhans lab was commissioned to screen throat and nasal swabs of suspected patients after the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, was unable to manage the burden.  

The virus attack was felt the most between August and September when the number of deaths escalated. The lab used to receive 100-120 samples a day during these months, with as many as 220 swabs on one particular day. This has now come down to 20-40 a day since December 2009. 

According to Dr Ravi, the deaths were more during this time because of the government’s policy to administer Oseltamivir tablets to only those testing positive for the virus. With the policy amended, the drug was administered to even those who showed symptoms of the H1N1 influenza.

Although fewer deaths were occurring now, Dr Ravi doesn’t rule out a second spurt. “The virus transmission could increase during the rain, as the weather would be conducive. We expect a second spurt. However, neither has the virulency of H1N1 influenza increased nor decreased since last year,” he stated. 

He said nothing had changed. Those who did not contract the H1N1 influenza virus are still prone to it, while people who recovered from the flu have developed life-time protection and even if there is another influenza outbreak, they will have “cross-protection.”  

In spite of the recent three deaths in the State, there is apparently no reason to worry. 
Dr Vasudev Murthy, state surveillance officer, felt that H1N1 virus was still in the community and it would take at least two years for it to subside. “We have not received a single positive case since last month. The recent deaths now are sporadic incidences and there is nothing to worry about,” he said. 

On an optimistic note, he revealed that an informal study conducted by NIV recently in the western part of Pune found that the attack rate of H1N1 Influenza virus was 30 per cent among youngsters. This was interesting because the attack rate had come down indicating perhaps that the body was developing immunity to the virus. 

Dr Raviraj of Lakeside Hospital, which received a huge number of patients in the initial days, said increased awareness was a crucial factor in the reduced death rates. “The deaths that are reported now are from peripheral areas where awareness might be low,” he said. He suggested that it was better if people took vaccines.

(Published in Deccan Herald on 12th June, 2010; Page 1 banner)

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