The last time India lost sleep over swine flu was in 2009; the virus affected people all over the world and forced the World Health Organisation to label the outbreak a “pandemic”.
This year, the number of swine flu-related deaths in India has peaked at 169. According to government data, 4,571 people have tested positive for the virus in the country. Former Union minister George Fernandes’s death on Monday, January 29, too, has contributed to public concern as he was suffering from swine flu before breathing his last. BJP chief Amit Shah was also diagnosed with it on January 20, but was discharged last week.
Cause, symptoms, and treatments
Fortis Hospital says swine flu refers to influenza in pigs that can transmit the virus to humans. Swine flu in humans presents as a respiratory infection triggered by the H1N1 virus strain.
One can contract the infection from inhaling “contaminated droplets” or coming in contact with a contaminated surface. Fortis Hospital clarifies, “You can’t catch swine flu from eating pork.” Pig farmers and veterinarians are at the highest risk of contracting “true swine flu” because of their proximity to pigs.
Once in your body, the virus infects the cell lining in your nose, throat, and lungs. Some of the most common symptoms are fever, cough and sore throat, runny nose, body aches and chills, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhoea. These signs develop over the course of three days, after exposure to the virus, and can persist for about a week, according to Fortis Hospital.
While an average individual need not panic over these symptoms, pregnant women, children younger than five years, senior citizens or those suffering from chronic ailments, such as diabetes, emphysema, and asthma, are advised to visit a doctor immediately.
Swine flu impact on Indians
The Indian Express reports that 2019 has already witnessed a higher rate of infection than the last four years. In 2018, 14,992 cases and 1,103 deaths were recorded; the worst affected state was Tamil Nadu with 2,812 cases.
In 2017, of the 38,811 cases, the most (7,709) were from Gujarat, and total number of deaths was 2,270; 2016 accounted for 1,786 cases and 265 deaths, and 2015 saw 42,592 cases and 2,990 deaths.
However, last month alone has seen 4,571 people infected and 169 deaths. Rajasthan has been the worst affected with 1,856 swine flu cases, which is 40% of India’s total, and 72 deaths. Delhi has recorded 479 cases. News18 reports that Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma said the government will be making arrangements for swine flu testing in five medical colleges.
The Indian Express says H1N1 usually spikes between January and March, especially in North India, as the summer sets in, and again during the monsoon.
How to protect yourself from the virus
Although the illness is seasonal and poses a serious risk mainly to the ailing and the elderly, you can exercise caution and take a vaccine, either a nasal spray or injection. Fortis Hospital also recommends staying at home if you’re sick to avoid contact with large crowds. It advises washing hands frequently, and covering nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius