The possible outbreak of coronavirus outside of China has received constant focus around the world, including India. However, healthcare experts say, swine flu is what India should be dealing with on priority while it stays alert on coronavirus.
Cases of swine flu, also known as Influenza A or H1N1, have been increasingly getting reported. On Tuesday, Justice D Y Chandrachud revealed that few Supreme Court judges are down with H1N1.
Doctors point out that the swine flu tends to recur at usual intervals and the solution lies in taking a flu shot since there is a vaccine available for H1N1. The vaccine is made and sold in India by several companies such as Sanofi Pasteur, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech. For those affected, medication such as Oseltamivir, or more commonly Tamiflu, are available, although doctors suggest a flu vaccine. The cost of vaccines vary depending on the product and its coverage. The expensive ones do not cost more than Rs 2,000. Doctors say one shot is advisable in a year.
The swine flu has become a yearly phenomenon now. It is seen peaking between January and March and then again post monsoon until October. The time period may vary state to state in a country. The vaccine shot is suggested once with every change of season. Although World Health Organisation has a proper guideline on the selection of the vaccine, it is advisable to reach out to the doctor.
"Coronavirus is far away. What we need to be really dealing with is the cases of H1N1 and it is important that people are made aware of the hand hygiene and those who are at risk to take the vaccination. The reason why it is recurring each year is because the virus is undergoing mutation every year and is trying to evade the human immune system that is why the vaccines are also reconstituted every year with different strains of virus," says Dr Satayanarayana Mysore, Head of the Department, Interventional Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine at the Manipal Hospitals Bengaluru. The WHO recommends composition of the influenza virus vaccine for use every year.
When asked about the concerns around H1N1, Vinod K. Paul, member in NITI Aayog and a member of the faculty at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, says he does not see any reason to get alarmed. But he cautions that H1N1 is a resident flu, that is, it is contagious. Data from the National Centre of Disease Control shows that 28,798 H1N1 cases and 1,218 deaths had been reported in 2019. In 2020, there have been 14 deaths and 884 cases as of February 16.
"Seasonal Influenza is caused by a number of circulating Influenza viruses such as Influenza A HINI, H3N2, Influenza B. While declaring the Pandemic to be over in August 2010, World Health Organization conveyed that Pandemic Influenza A (HINI) virus that caused Pandemic [2009-2010] would circulate as seasonal Influenza virus and would continue to do so for years to come. Seasonal Influenza may affect all age groups; globally incidence is higher in young children and those above 65 years. Health workers and persons with comorbid conditions (such as lung disease, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, blood disorders, Diabetes) and immuno-compromised persons are at higher risk," says a ministry of Health and Family Welfare note (updated in 2018) on guidelines for vaccination with influenza vaccine.