Three districts in Tamil Nadu have contributed the bulk of A(H1N1) cases this season. Chennai tops the list, with Vellore and Coimbatore towing the rear.
A total of 138 cases have been reported in the city, including those from private hospitals since August, according to Chennai Corporation sources. In September alone, 81 cases have been reported, and five deaths recorded in the last two months.
Compared to the State figures, (total cases over 730 and deaths – 11) Chennai, indeed, seems to bear the brunt of the A(H1N1) flu season this time. According to the Centers For Disease Control, Atlanta, the symptoms of A(H1N1) can include high fever, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue/tiredness, diarrhoea, and vomiting.
While it is possible to have an infection that could merely present as a cold and cough with mild fever, there are people who fall under the high-risk category – primarily those with compromised immune systems, diabetics, pregnant women and the elderly. If not treated on time, the infection can lead to death.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation's director Margaret Chang said that world had moved into the “post-pandemic period '' of the A(H1N1) virus. “The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course'', she said. However, she added, “As we enter the post-pandemic period, this does not mean that the H1N1 virus has gone away… We expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behaviour of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come''.
In this part of the country, it is obviously the right season. “When we go back to trace how a person contracted the infection, we invariably find that they have picked it up while travelling outside the State,” Health Minister MRK Panneerselvam said. However, since the number of cases has risen with the change in season, the government has strengthened monitoring and surveillance and is ensuring that treatment and vaccines are being provided throughout the State.
P. Gunasekharan, Deputy Director, King Institute of Preventive Medicine, says both the nasal and intramuscular vaccines are proven to be safe, about 15,000 doses have been given already. But there are situations in which the vaccines cannot be used, such as pregnancy and lactating mothers, and in people with known allergies to eggs and egg products. No vaccine will be given to children below three years, and one of the vaccines can be used only for people over 18 years. A review of patient's immune history will indicate if the vaccine can be given.
According to Corporation Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni, the civic body is facilitating the administering of the vaccine at six of its diagnostic laboratories and the Communicable Diseases Hospital, Tondiarpet. Nearly 8,200 have been vaccinated so far.
While the government provides the vaccine at low rates, the cost at private city hospitals is nearly nine-ten times higher. In the northern and western suburbs, including Avadi and Maduravoyal, many residents depend on the private hospitals to administer vaccines at a cost of Rs.700-Rs.800 as the local bodies are yet to provide the facility.
Officials of various local bodies said they had begun awareness campaign in schools and distributed pamphlets on A (H1N1). Bharathi Kumar, Anakaputhur Municipality Chairperson, said the focus of the awareness drive was not to panic and not be carried away by rumours. The thrust is now on mop-up screening of whoever the patient has come into contact with, says Corporation Health Officer P. Kuganantham. The point is to cut off the possible spread of infection within the community. Health Inspectors have also started monitoring private hospitals closely to check whether the A(H1N1) infection is being diagnosed or treated appropriately.