Amid the scare of COVID-19 outbreak, a case of swine flu was detected in Panchkula on Friday. As soon as the news spread, misinformation also grappled the city residents, with many linking swine flu with the novel coronavirus. The Indian Express looks at the differences between the two.
What is Swine Flu?
Swine Flu is a strain of virus that originated in 2009. Viruses have a capacity to make changes to their genes and mutate. When swine flu surfaced, it was Influenza A that took genomes from animals and humans to mutate. While few of the genomes were taken from pigs, others from birds and the rest from humans. The Influenza A exists in pigs, birds and humans. The virus in pigs also contracted some from the birds and humans and mutated itself. The virus was called H1N1 as these were the genomes where changes had been found.
How is it different from COVID-19?
Corona is a virus family consisting several viruses. The family is called Corona, as on examining it under a microscope, these viruses appear crown-shaped. There are several viruses in the corona family that generally remain specific and transfer between ‘animal-to-animal’ or ‘man-to-man’. Head of TB and Chest department at Civil Hospital Panchkula, Dr Rajesh Raju who has looked after several such cases, says, “Such transmissions within same species are mild, and include infections like common cold and are only self-limiting diseases. The WHO even monitors animal-to-animal transmission so no sudden animal- to-man cases come and cause an epidemic”.
When such a case was reported in China, the Chinese administration along with the WHO gave out a statement together and called the virus- SARS-CoV-2, where SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which had originated in 2002 and CoV stands for coronavirus and as SARS was the first such virus detected, it has been numbered two. Similarly, the disease is being called COVID-19 as it is a Corona Virus Infectious Disease that first originated in 2019.
How can the viruses be contracted? What are the symptoms?
Both the viruses are contracted in a similar way, through direct contact or exchange of saliva/droplets in any form, but the spread of corona is much faster than that of swine flu, warns Dr Rajesh.
“Both the cases have similar symptoms and spread in a similar way. Though corona spreads much more rapidly, the preventive measures for both the diseases also remain the same, where washing of hands at regular interval and not touching the face along with preventing oneself from getting infected by coming in contact with the positive patients keeps one healthy,” he says.
While the symptoms of both corona virus as well as swine flu look exactly the same, hospitals are using travel histories and contact histories as the measure for testing. “Symptoms escalate much faster in pre-disposed cases that have prior ailments especially in swine flu cases as a person goes bad to worse within the span of a week. The onset in swine flu is acute. The situation of the patient deteriorates rapidly. We are generally able to identify it,” says Dr Rajesh, citing the example of the case that came on Wednesday.
Swine flu also differs from corona in the way that even though it is more deadly, it isn’t as contagious as COVID-19.
How are we tackling swine flu cases coming-in amid the Corona scare?
“The conditions have changed for better since the first case of swine flu was reported in India more than a decade back. We have geared up to take it head-on. We even have vaccinations for it. Cases are isolated, diagnosed and then vaccinations in forms of tablets are given. Treatment is started as soon as the samples are sent. The channel to mediate such cases has already been tried, tested and perfected over the years”, says Dr Rajesh.
He further claims that the number of cases have seen a steep low year upon year. “The swine flu has lived amid us for quite sometime now. We have started making anti-bodies for it which makes us build resistance towards the virus”, he adds.
The procedure for tracking and isolating direct contacts as well as secondary contacts are already in place due to the swine flu spread. The hospitals have been following the same procedures, where in a Rapid Response Team (RRT) is made to trace all such cases. We are following the same procedures. This RRT goes to the homes of each person, screens the families for symptoms, if they are positive for symptoms they are brought to the hospital or else kept at home in quarantine. The team further teaches how to disinfect and how to keep the infection from spreading. The same measures are now being multiplied for corona as the spread of infection is 10x quicker.
Why is Corona pushing the health system?
The Corona virus is new and the human body is not prepared to fight with such a new virus. Anti-bodies are not prepared. The body reacts in a similar way to tackle all new viruses. The virus, though not different from any other respiratory tract infection, has created such a scare as this is a new-novel strain of virus which is spreading at the fastest rate any other virus ever has. This is a new disease for both patients and doctors and with no treatment in sight for it yet, it is definitely making the authorities panic.
“The spread of swine flu was slow but corona spread overnight. If it actually results into a huge disaster and if the number of cases were to spill over, there is a high possibility of a system collapse, where the people at the fore including doctors, administrators, police and even senior officials fall sick. Corona has shown such a potential and thus the whole world is panicking”, points out Dr Rajesh.
Each time any new virus comes in contact with human body, which does not know a string of virus and is exposed to it for the first time, the body does not know handle it, resulting into health deterioration. But once the population starts getting exposed and a vaccine is given, the body slowly starts building immunities, claim doctors. “We are seeing such cases in the world where healthy people who are even getting affected are not developing symptoms as their body is fighting it”, adds Dr Rajesh.
How many tests conducted?
The number of tests conducted pan India for Corona virus remains the lowest in the world even with the second highest population.
Doctors in the civil administration claim that the response of the Indian health system has been “remarkable” and further suggest that if we sustain the on-going measures and somehow manage the positive cases with the current speed for the next two months, we will easily come out of better and stronger.
When asked about the low number of tests being conducted which may result into a severe outbreak later, Dr Rajesh says, “I agree the testing is very low but this is a disease which cannot remain hidden. If a patient is not given critical care, they may even die within matter of hours. There have been no reports of extremely sick or dying people coming in from any corner of the country and thus it is safe to assume that we do not need mass testing but undertake preventive measures for now. If we extrapolate, the situation is not as bad but we have to keep our fingers crossed and keep working as this may spill over anytime. “
For now, the data collected and published by Ministry of Health suggests that the Indian Government and administration has taken pre-emptive measures at a correct time and much earlier into the cycle than other countries had when it was required.
What measures are being taken to contain the threats of a spread?
The health and administration have come together in all aspects to work 24×7 in synergy to put a stop on the Novel Corona Virus. In the State of Haryana, 144 CrpC was applied Friday, banning a gathering of more than five people. The State was the first in the country to notify it as an epidemic. The State is also only the one, which issues regular advisories and notices of the number of cases throughout. It has so far been successful in limiting the number of cases.
Panchkula administration has been the most active in tricity, taking stringent measures of closing temples including Mansa Devi for devotees, making teams to keep in check the prices of sanitisers and masks and taking regular meetings to know what is happening at all times. The health department, though small, has even roped in private sectors for a better opportunity at tackling the situation.
“We have made several plans, even our backups have been backed up. The civil hospitals and government alone might not be able to handle it once cases start coming in high numbers. The need to tie up with private sector is a must and I think at least Panchkula has done that. We have roped in private sector and even schools are being kept on back-up for help when required. Our food and supply controllers have already been taking meetings for preparations in case of a full lock-down. We have thought of a long-term solution in case of complete lock down. Food and water resources are being managed to be provided if and when needed”, informs Dr Raju.
Caution and awareness have been said to be the key to solve the problem. The doctors are advising to ‘sit this one out’ and not come out of homes if possible at all.
The only positive signs the virus as compared to others has shown, is that it’s mortality rates are lower as compared to other ones that humanity has faced. Though it makes a person very sick, it does not kill them. Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu had much higher mortality rates.
The spread of fear in such situations is not healthy. People are panic buying resources that are limited. Every person that walks into hospital does not want to come in without masks. But the reality is, that the person who is sick must wear mask and others may excuse themselves. People are buying masks but they do not even know how to use. These masks have to be either disposed off or thoroughly washed after each use. Please follow procedure when there is an urgent need to leave your house.
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