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The H1N1 flu is a respiratory disease which spreads through droplet infections. Photo: AFP
The H1N1 flu is a respiratory disease which spreads through droplet infections. Photo: AFP

Swine flu cases cross 10,000, toll touches 633

Given the alarming rise in cost of swine flu tests in private laboratories, the health ministry directs state government to regulate the prices

New Delhi: The total number of swine flu cases reported in India crossed the 10,000 mark on Wednesday. In the last 24-hours, 26 people have succumbed to the respiratory illness, taking the total death count to 663 since 1 January.

Given the alarming rise in cost of swine flu tests in private laboratories, the health ministry, on Wednesday, directed state government to regulate the prices. The decision came after reports that private laboratories were between 3,500 to 10,000 for a simple flu test.

“I have issued instructions to state government allowing them to monitor prices of swine flu tests in private laboratories across the country. We are monitoring the situation closely," said Jagdish Prasad, Director General health Services.

“We had not increased the prices so steeply, so the decision does not affect us that much. Even now, we charge under 5,000," said Arvind Lal, managing director of Dr Lal Path Labs.

According to health ministry data, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are reporting the bulk of the new cases with the respective death toll standing at 165, 144, 58 and 76. The spurt in cases has led the ministry to place emergency orders for N95 masks and Oseltamivir tablets.

The H1N1 flu is a respiratory disease which spreads through droplet infections and while the symptoms are the same as those of common flu, patients with H1N1 are more likely to vomit and feel breathless as compared to seasonal flu.

A senior official in the ministry clarified that despite a growing number of cases, there was no cause to panic as the virus was not mutating. “There is some reason to cheer that the current strain of virus is not mutating. However, people need to be careful and practise basic hygiene. At the ministry’s end, we have stocked up drugs and diagnostic kits. We are well prepared," said the official.

Meanwhile, Drug Controller General, G.N. Singh dismissed reports of shortage of drugs, diagnostic kits or masks required to contain the outbreak. “We have advised all pharmacies approved to stock Oseltamivir, to display boards saying that they have the drugs. The reports of shortage are baseless. We have enough drugs to flood the markets but do not want to do so as it will lead to patients carelessly popping the pill. If patients start taking the tablet without waiting for swine flu test results it may lead to resistance to the drug. That is a situation we want to avoid," added Singh.

Doctors maintain that most deaths are occurring in immunocompromised patients—those with low immunity.

“The flu is not virulent. In a majority of cases, deaths occur when the patients are brought in too late or in immunocompromised groups like young children and old patients. There is no reason to panic as the disease is now endemic—meaning that we will see cases of H1N1 every year much like the seasonal flu," said Narendra Saini of Indian Medical Association (IMA).

The health ministry has warned against the use of injectable swine flu vaccines, available in the market.

“People need to understand that not everyone needs the vaccine. The health ministry, in consultation with the World Health Organization has decided that, as of now, only health workers require flu vaccines. Over the last two days, the number of infected is actually coming down. There is no need to panic," he added. According to Prasad, infection rates have come down in the past two days.

This is the largest outbreak of swine flu since the 2009 pandemic, when the infectious disease spread to 74 countries across the world. The 2009 outbreak was the first time in 41 years that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a flu pandemic.

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