Ten years since the influenza pandemic caused by H1N1 virus struck India, Maharashtra has seen the highest number of cases and deaths. The state has recorded 3,637 deaths and 33,284 cases of swine flu in the last 10 years.
Reeda Shaikh, a 14-year-old student from Pune, was the first victim of H1N1 virus in India. She succumbed to the infection on August 3, 2009.
According to data from the Pune Municipal Corporation’s health department, as many as 6,824 patients have tested positive for the virus in the last 10 years. While municipal authorities have registered 760 deaths in this period, they clarified that only 328 of them were residents of Pune. The other victims had come from across the state, and from other states, to seek treatment at Pune hospitals.
So far this year, there have been 163 reported cases and 43 deaths due to H1N1 virus infection in the city. Of the 43 deaths, 17 are residents of Pune.
“Several lessons have been learnt — the foremost is that this virus is here to stay and we can’t predict when it can change,” Dr Subhash Salunke, chairman of the state Committee on Prevention of Communicable Diseases, told The Indian Express. In Maharashtra, there has been continuous surveillance with more reporting of cases, said state Surveillance Officer Dr Pradeep Awate.
Seasonal flu outbreaks usually occur towards the end of winter season, and after it, from January to March, as well as during monsoon, from July to September.
Experts such as Salunkhe and Awate said that vaccination was crucial, especially for persons at high risk— like pregnant women and those with diabetes and hypertension.
The year of the pandemic
In June 2009, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared that the swine flu virus — known as H1N1 — had triggered a pandemic. It was the first time in four decades that a new flu virus had emerged. Cases of H1N1 were reported from across the globe.
According to WHO, more than 214 countries had reported laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic influenza, and the virus had claimed 18,449 lives. India had reported 981 deaths during the 2009 pandemic, and 1,763 deaths in 2010.
After the pandemic
In the years since then, from 2012 to 2019, there have been 6,400 deaths from H1N1 virus across the country, according to data from the National Centre for Disease Control.
Apart from Maharashtra, the two states that have registered a high number of deaths in this period are Rajasthan (1,480) and Gujarat (1,530). This year, of the 1,118 deaths due to H1N1 virus across the country, 197 are from Maharashtra and 206 from Rajasthan.
Steps towards prevention
Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent infection and while the WHO recommends a new vaccine each year against the most dominant influenza strain, it has recommended the quadrivalent vaccine for 2018-19. This protects against A (H1N1) pdm09, influenza A (H3N2) and two other influenza B viruses.
According to senior scientist Dr M S Chadha, this disease is vaccine preventable and awareness needs to be heightened among medical professionals to advise patients to initiate early treatment. The anti-viral medication oseltamivir is still effective against H1N1 virus, added Chadha.