New Delhi: The government on Friday took emergency measures to prevent an outbreak of the dreaded swine flu—now being referred to as A/H1N1 influenza—at the insistence of the meat lobby, by setting up surveillance teams to screen passengers at six more airports across the country, an official told a news conference.
In Hong Kong, authorities sealed a hotel after a Mexican staying in it was found infected with the flu.
The new airports in India under surveillance are Goa, Amritsar, Kochi, Ahmedabad, Tiruchirappalli and Srinagar. So far, screening was being done at the Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore airports.
Vineet Choudhry, joint secretary at the ministry of health, said almost 250,000 capsules of antiviral oseltamivir and at least 100,000 triple-layer surgical masks are being dispatched to the states.
Meanwhile, V.M. Katoch, director general of Indian Council of Medical Research, said Indian scientists now have the primer, or the genetic sequence, of the H1N1 virus based on the information sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US.
“The primer helps us to amplify the gene of the virus. We have now got the sequence of the virus and can artificially synthesize it. The virus sequence will now enable us to detect and diagnose the H1N1 virus in India,” said Katoch.
He also said that if the need arises, the government would, as had been done during the outbreak of avian influenza, prepare a vaccine for the prevention of H1N1 influenza through the synthetically prepared strain of the virus.
“The virus that has been identified at present is a combination of human, avian and possibly a pig virus, but we are not certain of its origin,” said Katoch.
He added that there is no need for the culling of pigs since the World Health Organization has said that pigs are not the cause of the flu outbreak.
Manufacturers have assured the department of pharmaceuticals that besides the 10 million doses being made available to the government, they will be able to supply any quantity of the antiviral drug to the government in four-six weeks, Choudhry said. “Currently we are spending Rs30 crore for these medicines.”
However, these will not be made available through retail stores in order to avoid their overuse, thus leading to drug resistance. “The drug is prohibited for sale in India and will only be provided through government channels,” Choudhry said.
An official statement said a total of 17,949 passengers have been screened since Wednesday, and 96 doctors deployed at 32 counters at the airports.
Studies on the virus have shown that once released by an infected person, it can travel across a maximum 6 ft.
As of now, only one suspected case, In Hyderabad, has been reported in India.
Reuters contributed to this story.