The death toll from swine flu this year has soared to around 600 with more than 100 deaths reported across the country since February 12. While the Centre has ordered additional stocks of medicines and diagnostic kits to strengthen the fight against the disease, you can do your bit by not giving in to these five myths:
1) You can get swine flu from eating pork
Wrong! Despite the common name of the disease, eating pork products doesn’t spread H1N1 influenza (swine flu). The virus spreads through droplets expelled in the air from infected people coughing and sneezing. People are contagious from one day before to seven days after developing symptoms of swine flu.
2) The swine flu virus has mutated
Gene sequencing of the H1N1 virus by India’s two premier labs – National Institute of Virology Pune and National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi – last week showed the virus has not mutated. The virus infecting people this year is the same as the one that infected less than 1,000 people last year.
3) There is no cure for swine flu
Having the anti-viral prescription drug Oseltamivir (commonly sold under the brand name Tamiflu) shortens the duration and severity of illness if the taken within 48 hours of the symptoms appearing. It also makes you less contagious and prevents infection. Oseltamivir also protects against other strains of influenza.
4) India has a shortage of drugs
There is no shortage. The virus causes mild disease in most people and less than 1% people infected need drugs for treatment. India has stockpiles of 60,000 adult doses of Oseltamivir (75mg and 45mg) and 1,000 doses of the paediatric syrup. Three pharma companies – Hetero, Natco and Strides Acrolab – have the manufacturing capacity and raw materials to produce the drug on a short notice.
5) You get swine flu only once in your life
The H1N1 virus works like other seasonal flu viruses and may re-infect you in the coming years. Since you can get it again and again if you are in frequent contact with contagious people, all health-workers treating people with swine flu are vaccinated against it. The vaccine offers a one-year protection against the virus.
Should I press the panic button if I have swine flu?
Don’t. The H1N1 virus has not mutated and is no more contagious or deadly than other flu viruses. In fact, the death rate in 2015 has been lower compared to the figure in 2014.
You should get tested for the H1N1 virus if along with flu symptoms (fever, runny nose, sore throat and congestion) you have:
*Fever over 101 Fahrenheit for more than three days
*Pain in the chest while breathing
*Loss of appetite
Swine flu spreads through droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes or by touching surfaces contaminated by the droplets. You can protect yourself by staying away from infected persons, frequently washing hands with soap, and cleaning surfaces with disinfectant or warm water regularly.
People at high risk
*People with respiratory disorders, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.
*People with compromised immunity because of cancer, kidney diseases and uncontrolled diabetes.
*Pregnant women and children under five years of age. People aged 50 years or older.