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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

‘Swine flu is bigger worry than bird flu’ It Can’t Be Contained, Says WHO

Kounteya Sinha | TNN
 Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday made the chilling admission that the H1N1 swine flu virus could no longer be contained as it had spread far and wide, India kicked off a massive containment exercise, screening all passengers coming into the country from the US, Canada and Mexico for influenza symptoms.
    While WHO raised the alert level from phase three to phase four—two steps short of declaring a fullfledged global pandemic—India set up eight counters at Indira Gandhi International Airport to scan passengers for cough, cold and upper respiratory tract diseases. Doctors at Delhi's Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) and Safdarjung hospitals were asked to re
main on standby in case a suspected case was found.
    Health ministry sources told TOI, "The official deployment of 32 additional doctors at IGI will begin on Wednesday when passengers from all infected countries will be screened. However, selective screening of pas
sengers from the US, Mexico and Canada began on Tuesday night. Three doctors posted at the airport were in charge of screening.'' Passengers suspected of having the infection will be taken either to Safdarjung or RML, sources added. India to triple Tamiflu stock
New Delhi: The government, which began screening incoming international passengers for the swine flu on Tuesday night, is taking no chances. A health ministry official said, "We're also screening passengers who may have taken a connecting flight coming from the infected countries.''
    Officials of the Indian Council of Medical Research said throat swabs from suspected passengers would first be sent to National Institute of Virology (Pune) and National Institute of Communicable Diseases (Delhi) for confirmation, results of which would be available in 24 to 36 hours.
    India has also decided to triple its stock of Tamiflu, which will cover 30 lakh people in case of a pandemic. At present, India has one million doses of Tamiflu, the only drug known to be effective against H1N1. The threat of H1N1 swine flu virus is serious, considering the H5N1 bird flu virus, believed by scientists for the past
few years to be the most probable candidate to cause a pandemic, had not even crossed a phase two alert, defined "as an animal influenza virus circulating among domesticated or wild animals, known to have caused infection in humans, and so is considered a potential pandemic threat''.
    Phase four of a pandemic alert, as announced by the WHO on Tuesday is characterised by "verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause community-level outbreaks''.
    Phase five, on the other hand, is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent while phase six is the pandemic phase indicating that a global pandemic is under way. WHO, however, made it clear that global pandemic was not yet inevitable.
    The deadly swine flu virus, which was first documented on April 13 in Mexico, has spread to US, Canada, New Zealand, France, Spain, the UK, Brazil, South Korea and Israel, infecting over 2,000 people
and claiming over 150 lives in Mexico.
    "The change to a higher phase of pandemic alert indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable,'' WHO said.
    WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said, "Given the widespread presence of the virus, containment of the outbreak is not feasible. The current focus should be on mitigation measures.''
    "This is a new influenza virus. And so we aren't still clear how this one will evolve and how diseases related to this will evolve. At present, this virus is too widespread to make containment a feasible consideration,'' WHO assistant director-general for health security Dr Keiji Fukuda said. He warned that in this age of global travel, there is no region to which this virus could not spread.
    According to the WHO, there were three epidemics of influenza in the 20th century, the worst being the Spanish flu in 1918-1919 that killed at least 40 million people.

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