With India reporting its first swine flu deaths, hospitals in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi are seeing panic-stricken hordes with flu symptoms. But they should perhaps be more concerned if they don’t have swine flu. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, as of 31 July 2009, swine flu has killed 7 out of every 1,000 people infected. The corresponding figure for seasonal flu, which strikes every year around winter, is 70-140 deaths.
If you think you have swine flu, then the WHO has a solution: stay at home for 10 days. “There is no need to go to a hospital if flu symptoms develop. Only if a severe complication arises is it warranted,” says a WHO spokesperson. When 21-year-old Ayushi Rohira went, as a precaution, for a swab test to Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai, she was shocked at the unhygienic conditions. “After coming back I felt sicker. Hardly anyone was wearing masks. I wasn’t infected. Now, I’m scared I may have contracted it from the others,” she says.
Dr Bir Singh of the All India Institute of Medical sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, says: “Several scared patients with ordinary cold and cough come in every day.”
“Like any other form of influenza, this too is self-limiting,” says Dr Rajendra Trivedi of the Indian Medical Association in Mumbai.
On 11 July, the WHO gave the swine flu the status of a pandemic. However, what is lost in the panic is its clarification that the status is due to the virus’s large geographic spread and not its severity which is rated ‘moderate’ globally. In India, the severity is deemed ‘low’. Swine flu tends to cause very mild illness in otherwise healthy people.