Saturday, August 22, 2009

Swine flu: Why shutting schools, malls is not necessary

Saturday, August 22, 2009 8:40:00 AM

Manjula Pooja Shroff / DNA

Many more people die in road accidents and from malaria and even childbirth than from swine flu. Yet, the scare of swine flu is gripping India a little more each day. A lack of complete information is adding to our fears. Quick communication and travel across continents is causing panic and spread of the virus. Today, we have more information about swine flu than was known about previous pandemics.

There are many reasons not to press the panic button on the H1N1 virus. The primary reason is due to its inherent nature of low fatality. Out the two lakh or more cases reported across the world, deaths are less than 1 per cent. Swine flu is not a killer virus like tuberculosis, the death rate of which is 3.5 per cent. The symptoms are moderate. The flu causes aches and pains that painkillers, under doctors’ guidance, can be taken care of.

Once the flu is gone, there are no lingering pains like in chikungunia, nor is there a slow recovery. It’s a short-duration illness, lasting from two to three days up to a week. There is no need for intravenous injections or saline drips if there is ample bed rest and lots of fluid. There is complete recovery, though there may be general weakness connected to the fever, but there is the advantage of the fever strengthening the immunity to the virus.

It is the panic that creates the complications. This widespread panic is causing places of congregation such as schools, movie theatres and malls to close for a few days. If the reports stating that pandemics last for about two years, that they occur in waves and that each wave lasts for six to eight years and may be separated by three to six months are true, closing schools for a week or two is neither here nor there.

However, creating awareness and guiding documents to keep students and parents informed of strategies to reduce occurrences is completely in order, since kids are more susceptible because of their relatively low immunity and the likelihood of them passing the virus on to others. It is being quoted in the World Health Organisation that in India the flu panic spreads faster than the virus. It is also being said that the frenzy and hysteria are disproportionate to the reality, since it is a low-fatality virus.

Boosting immunity and taking precautionary measures seem like the best way out. Proper food, proper sleep, supplements for immunity booster are being recommended. Organisations and school awareness camps are spreading information on protective measures that include social distances like reducing handshakes or hugs as a way of greeting.

Surgical masks or respirators maybe useful when directly exposed to the virus like when caring for a sick member of the family, but can we visualise a world where everyone wears masks for the next two odd years?

Hygiene and hand sanitising are a global movement. Keeping hands clean at all times by routine washes with alcohol-based products saves us from the millions of freewheeling bacteria whether air- or waterborne. Swine flu or not, it’s a good habit.

Previous global outbreaks of serious illnesses or pandemics have been reported in the years 1918, 1975 and 1968. Most experts agree that the next pandemic was expected in the first decade of 2000. Since it occurs three or four times in a century, we were long overdue! The WHO’s Influenza Centre does not know precisely how the pandemic will unfold. For the moment, India is in a more neutral zone since the flu strain is more rampant in Argentine, Australia, Brazil, Chile and New Zealand.

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