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Is the paranoia around H1N1 justified? – A look at some factoids & information resources.

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Honestly, I don’t have the exact answer. Only time will tell whether we, the citizens of Pune (and India) over-reacted, or should have done a lot more. All we have right now are statistics, data-points, examples from other regions of the world, and expert advisories to look at and  learn from.

swine flu h1n1

In this article, I am listing out the various relevant factoids, observations and information resources that I have stumbled upon over the past few days. I will let the readers draw their own conclusions.

What is painfully clear though is that we don’t have enough data, and we often don’t rely on credible sources of information. In absence of data and facts, the common population is always swayed by ‘headlines’ and ‘sound bites’ – Sadly, this is true even in the 21st century. Thanks to the latest technology, data can be accessed easily; yet this same technology can also help in spreading rumors a lot faster as well.

Here are some factoids and observations:

1. According to WHO and other estimates, there are nearly 1 Billion cases of normal flu (influenza) each year.  Around 3-5 Million of these are severe and 300,000 – 500,000 of these result in deaths.

Statistically speaking (based on a simple extrapolation that India’s population is approx 1/5 of World Population) that translates to 200 M cases, 600,000 – 1 M severe cases, and 60,000 – 100,000 deaths.

For a city of Pune, that translates to 500 deaths/year or 10 deaths/week.

All these are huge numbers. And yet, until a few weeks back, we hardly even thought about ‘influenza’ as something serious!

2. On a related topic – Pollution levels in Pune and in all major Indian cities are at very dangerous levels. Yet very few perceived the need to wear masks over all these years. Do we know the statistics of upper respiratory problems in major Indian cities?

3. According to WHO (World Health Organization), the recommended mask to protect against H1N1 infections is the one that meets the N95 standard. Yet, these constitute a miniscule amount of the ones being worn around in Pune. The others don’t really offer any significant help. For a complete list of Do’s and Don’ts regarding masks – please refer to the next section.

4. Commonsense tells us that it is better to wear masks in crowded places; but they are not very critical when walking or driving on uncrowded, open roads. Yet, what we are seeing around in Pune is quite the opposite. It is also amazing to see so many people wearing masks that are covering their mouths, but not their noses?!

5. Last year, over 200 riders lost their lives in 2-Wheeler Accidents in Pune – many of these deaths could have been prevented had the riders been wearing helmets. Yet I see so many people on Pune roads today wearing masks but not helmets!

6. According to what I have read thus far, the H1N1 strain is not significantly more virulent than the traditional influenza virus. The prescribed treatments are also very similar to normal flu.

7. Most individuals who get infected with H1N1 will get back to normal in a few days (similar to the normal flu). This is not a virus like HIV that an individual will carry with him / her for the rest of their lives!

8. Apparently, a vast percentage (by some accounts, up to 90%) of the Indian population tests +ve on the skin test for TB (Tuberculosis). Majority of these tests yield a –ve result on a follow-up (and more reliable) X-Ray test. Disease causing germs (viruses and bacteria) are present everywhere – in most of the cases, the immune system should be able to take care of them! It is only when the immune system becomes weak (in case of old age, young children, patients suffering from certain chronic ailments, etc.) do these germs present any significant danger.

Here are some useful information sources:

1. Flu related statistics (from Roche Laboratories – makers of Tamiflu)

2. Comprehensive Flue Related Information from US Dept of Health & Human Services and CDC (Center for Disease Control) 

3. Comprehensive Flue Related Information from WHO (World Health Organization)

4. A map based depiction of Flu cases across the globe

5. WHO – FAQ about H1N1

6. WHO – Document regarding use of masks

7. WHO – Document regarding cleaning hands as a key preventive measure

[This article has been written by Amit Paranjape, a Pune based blogger, an Information Technology Professional, an Entrepreneur, a Technocrat, and a Knowledge-Freak]

  1. Ben Fulvio says

    In June 2009, the World Health Organization declared the new strain of swine-origin H1N1 as a pandemic. This strain is often called swine flu by the public media. This novel virus spread worldwide and had caused about 17,000 deaths by the start of 2010. On August 10, 2010, the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 influenza pandemic over, saying worldwide flu activity had returned to typical seasonal patterns…..

    Stay in touch

  2. Santosh Dhanaji Patil says

    Hello, I have read your article its very usefull and informative. Special thanks to U, also good content based on swine flu, which is the most current fear, everyone in minds. I really like this Article and also request to u that please keep it up….
    I have some important comment on swine flu which is available on this link http://www.jiyohealthy.com/2009/08/swine-flu-rumors-in-india and also tell your comments

  3. Rupesh says

    I totally agree with you on the fact that issue is blown out of proportion. As mentioned in the comments already, may be we can ride this wave and target for more hygienic and clean cities.
    But I think why institutes such as NIV (National Institute of Virology) and WHO are worried about H1N1 is because of its unpredictable nature. The virus is capable of rapid transformation (mutation), which is the root cause of worries. It can go either way, it might transform into completely harmless (to human) or mighty dangerous. In the history we have seen that H1N1 has caused massacre during WWI, so did H2N2 during late fifties. Hence WHO is trying to keep a tab on spread.

  4. TOTOBOBO says

    “Pollution levels in Pune and in all major Indian cities are at very dangerous levels. Yet very few perceived the need to wear masks over all these years.”

    Fully agree, the used filter color of cyclists wearing our mask in India reinforce your point. (http://totobobo.com/blog/category/cyclist/)
    Imagine what will happy over time as people are breathing in this dirt into their lungs day after days?

  5. Jay Thaker says

    *oops – i meant “Amit” (not arun)

  6. Jay Thaker says

    Awesome stats! Good research & analysis, Arun.
    This is like an eye opener. besides realizing the controversial point of whether “are we blowing it out of proportion?” what’s more shocking is that, a common disease like influenza has reached such high fatalities around the world, yet the governments of the developing world doesn’t seem to realize it.

    I wonder what’s the health ministry of a country like India have on it’s annual agenda. would love to read that if possible.. of course along with the info about what they do to execute what they plans. :)

  7. Amit Paranjape says

    Philip,

    Good point. I think this is a good opportunity (when the entire population is focussed on it…) for a comprehensive media campaign by the Govt/NGOs/Others regarding basic hygiene and cleanliness.

    Amit

  8. Philip says

    millions die of influenza / complications of common cold every year. has anyone compiled that info or done anything about it? basic hygiene is something we dont understand. throwing our garbage everywhere, eating roadside food, not washing hands and fruits/vegetables before eating, not cooking meat products well before eating. these are basic things to be done.

    why doesnt the govt take the responsibility now and go on a advertising blitz? A plague forced Surat to be the cleanest city in India. Maybe this H1N1 will force India to clean up its act.

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