Author: Associated Press
Twenty people have died from the flu here, according to government numbers
available today, and 1,283 have been confirmed infected in this nation of
1.2 billion people. But fear of the flu has outpaced the virus itself.
“The amount of frenzy or hysteria is totally disproportionate to the overall
reality of the disease,” Dr. Jai Narain, the head of the regional
communicable disease office for the World Health Organization, said Friday.
Breathless reports of swine flu have dominated India’s 24-hour news channels
desperate for stories amid the August doldrums. That in turn has helped whip
the public into a frenzy, even in cities with relatively few cases of flu.
In New Delhi, where no deaths have been reported, people have begun wearing
surgical masks in the street. In Lucknow, parents demanded their children be
“Over 1,000 people lined up at different hospitals. … Eleven of them tested
positive,” Dr. R.R. Bharati, a top health official in the northern city of
Lucknow said earlier this week.
In Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, the government closed all schools
and movie theaters, hammering the Bollywood film industry over the long
Independence Day holiday weekend. The government also asked malls in Mumbai
to tone down their traditional holiday sales to keep away crowds.
The nearby city of Pune is India’s worst affected, with 12 of the country’s 20
There, the streets were half-empty, the usual crowds shunned the shopping
malls and many workers stopped showing up at offices. With schools closed,
worried parents kept their children shut inside.
Many who did venture out wore surgical masks, despite a shortage that sent the
price of a single mask skyrocketing from 5 rupees to 150 rupees.
“The situation in Pune is alarming considering the number of … positive
cases and deaths. We are augmenting the resources in the city to handle the
situation. However, we appeal to people not to panic,” said Chandrakant
Dalvi, a city official.
In response to the outbreak, India’s government has set up testing centers
around the country and plans to increase its stock of the anti-viral drug
Tamiflu to 30 million doses, the government said. But officials have also
asked people to stop wearing surgical masks in the street unless they or a
family member are infected.
“I cannot see anything to panic about,” said Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, a
professor of epidemiology at Christian Medical College in Vellore. “These
kinds of rumors are not good for the health of the nation.”
The fatality rate from the virus is relatively low, though scientists worry it
could eventually mutate into a more deadly strain, he said.
Yet the flu has garnered far more attention than India’s raft of other health
problems, including tuberculosis, which kills nearly 1,000 Indians every
day, according to World Health Organization figures.
In Pune, more than 11,000 people lined up to be tested for the swine flu virus
Thursday and 73 tested positive, Mahesh Zagade, a city official, told
“I think we are suffering a psychological disorder. We keep asking each other
if we feel sick, cold, have a body ache, fever or breathlessness,” said a
25-year-old man waiting to be tested in Pune who identified himself as
Aditya. “I called up my doctor this morning and told him that I felt like I
The entire staff at one pharmacy donned gloves and masks after hearing a
pharmacist was among those killed by the virus.
“We were planning to shut down, but we know we can’t do that because people
here need medicine,” said Anand Agarwal, the 42-year-old pharmacist.
According to the World Health Organization, there were 177,457 cases of swine
flu and 1,462 deaths across the world as of August 12.
After more than a week of feverish coverage of India’s outbreak, some news
organizations are now counseling calm.
“Stop the panic,” urged the Hindustan Times.
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