At least 368 persons are currently under treatment for the H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, in Tamil Nadu, besides other cases of dengue and flu. Since the beginning of the year, 1,048 H1N1 cases have been reported in the state, Tamil Nadu Health Minister Ma Subramanian said on Monday, 19 September.
Of the 368 active swine flu cases in the state, 42 are children under the age of five, 65 patients belong to the five to 15 age group, 192 are aged between 15 and 65, and 69 are above the age of 65.
Only 15 patients diagnosed with H1N1 influenza are being treated in government hospitals. While 264 persons are undergoing treatment in private hospitals, 89 are recuperating at their homes.
While the Puducherry Directorate of School Education closed schools in the Union territory from 17 September to 25 September for Classes I-VIII over the “sudden spike in fever cases among children”, Ma Subramanian said as there was no emergency in Tamil Nadu, there was no need to shut schools.
‘No need to panic’
He emphasised that there was no reason for the public to panic or be under the impression that Tamil Nadu is under the grip of the H1N1 virus or the flu.
“This is the fever season, and a spike in fever cases is not abnormal. The spike in cases is not worrying as compared to the number of cases reported during the same period in previous years, except the last two years due to Covid,” Subramanian added.
According to the data by the National Centre for Disease Control, Tamil Nadu reported 3,315 H1N1 cases in 2017, 2,812 cases in 2018 and 1,038 cases in 2019. The number fell to 276 and 11 in 2020 and 2021m respectively, when the country was battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The health minister, however, urged parents and teachers to keep a close watch on the health of the children. Parents have been urged not to send their wards to school if they have fever, cold, headache or fatigue.
In addition to the spread of H1N1 influenza and flu, cities like Chennai and Coimbatore have also reported a marginal spike in Covid cases. The health minister requested people to continue to follow Covid norms such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.
Speaking to South First, Tamil Nadu’s Director of Public Health Dr TS Selvavinayagam reiterated that there was no cause of worry as far as the fever situation in the state was concerned.
He added that the Health Department has instructed officials and hospitals to follow the Standard Operating Procedure and provide necessary treatment to the patients.
The department has also stepped up monitoring activities across the state in an attempt to break the fever chain.
Are children more vulnerable?
Children, as they are more negligent about protecting themselves, tend to get infected by viruses more easily.
A scientist at ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology (NIE) in Chennai told South First that the influenza virus peaks during the monsoon and children in schools are vulnerable.
“This year there is no lockdown, and people have also stopped following Covid-19 guidelines such as wearing facial masks. Kids especially don’t wear masks and schools are closed spaces, That’s why it is spreading,” the scientist, who did not want to be named, said.
“Also, after the pandemic, people more vigilant about diseases and parents are turning up for testing. The government has made sure that, apart from Covid19 testing kits, dengue and influenza kits are also be available. That too is adding to the number of reported cases,” the ICMR-NIE scientist said.
The scientist added that the best to way to control the spread of the disease is by administering the annual influenza vaccine. “Frequent hand-sanitising and isolating when sick are useful to protect oneself and close contacts,” said the scientist.
Opposition raises alarm
Addressing the media on Sunday, former health minister and AIADMK leader Dr C Vijayabhaskar said that the “alarming rise in fever cases among children” in several districts of Tamil Nadu must be approached by the state government with “great concern and vigilance”.
He quoted health experts as saying that it could likely be a resurgence of H1N1 swine flu, in addition to Dengue and influenza virus infections.
While urging the chief minister to intervene, he recommended the state government immediately set up an expert committee to evaluate the situation and curtail further spread.
Vijayabhaskar also suggested the Health Department set up temporary fever wards in pediatric departments of all government medical colleges and government hospitals to meet the rising number of fever cases.
Meanwhile, expelled AIADMK leader O Pannerselvam urged the government to declare holiday for schools, especially primary schools, and postpone exams until the fever cases are brought under control. PMK founder S Ramadoss too asked the government to declare holiday for students up to class IX to control the spread of flu.
Expressing concern over the spike in H1N1 cases, BJP state chief K Annamalai asked the state government to conduct medical camps with the help of the health and school education departments in schools with high number of students as a precautionary measure.
He added that wearing face masks in public places must be made mandatory until the H1N1influenza virus slows down.
However, Health Minister Ma Subramanian said it was unfortunate that fever cases were being politicised by some. He reiterated that there was nothing to worry, and urged everyone not to panic.
Spike in fever cases in Puducherry
Owing to the “sudden spike of fever cases among children,” the Directorate of Secondary Education declared holiday for students in Classes I-VIII studying in government and private schools from 17 September to 25 September in the Puducherry and Karaikal regions.
According to Health Department officials, in the last few days, the Union territory was reporting around 400 to 600 cases of fever every day.
“We tested most of the children, but the test for Dengue, H1N1, influenza, etc., was negative for all. They have symptoms of viral fever. We suspect the fever spiked due to the recent rains,” Dr G Sriramulu, Director of Health and Family Welfares, Puducherry, told South First.
He added that the holiday for schools was announced as it was felt it would help break the chain of the fever.
“As the cases of fever were not subsiding, the Health Department recommended declaring holiday in schools which they took into consideration. We are monitoring the situation. It will be controlled in five or six days,” said Dr Sriramulu.
(With inputs from Sumit Jha)