Govt flounders as 38 cases of swine flu reported in Karachi

Published: January 12, 2018
Authorities struggling to fight disease with low budget and few resources. PHOTO: FILE

Authorities struggling to fight disease with low budget and few resources. PHOTO: FILE

Authorities struggling to fight disease with low budget and few resources. PHOTO: FILE  PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: Karachi is under threat of seasonal influenza H1N1, commonly known as swine flu. So far, 38 cases of the virus have been reported in the city.

Karachi Health Director Dr Tahir Aziz Shaikh confirmed on Tuesday that the provincial government is in possession of a report detailing 38 cases of swine flu tested by Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH).

“Confirmation of swine flu cases in Karachi is not surprising, given the spread of the virus in different parts of Punjab,” he said, adding that we must keep the disease from spreading.

An emergency meeting was called this week after six deaths due to swine flu were reported in Punjab.

“The number of deaths caused by swine flu is negligible. Viral infections are common during the months of December and January. About 38 cases of swine flu have so far been reported in Karachi,” said AKUH’s Dr Bushra Jamil during a media briefing on Tuesday.

“The death rate of the virus is 0.001%,” Dr Jamil said, adding that the 38 cases were reported at the AKUH between December 24, 2017 and January, 2018. These cases do not include women and children, she said.

According to Dr Jamil, the virus has not turned into an epidemic. “Good hygiene can help prevent the virus from spreading,” she said, advising that those affected by flu, fever and cough should cover their mouths while sneezing or coughing and wash their hands repeatedly.

Elderly people, women and children at high risk of influenza

“Influenza germs most commonly spread through the hands,” she warned, adding that the virus has been prevalent in all parts of the world since 2009.  She stressed on the need to adopt preventative measures to check the spread of the virus, saying that prevention rather than fear can help us fight the disease.

“Laboratory tests for those diagnosed with swine flu were conducted at AKUH,” Dr Shaikh said, adding that District Health Officer Dr Masood Solangi submitted a report to him indicating a rising number of swine flu cases in different parts of Karachi.

Dr Solangi told Express News that two swine flu cases were reported as of January 2. Seeing the onset of the virus, a meeting presided over by Shaikh came up with a set of guidelines in its health advisory. “All those diagnosed with swine flu are being treated at AKUH,” he said, adding that several patients were discharged following treatment.

“None of those affected by swine flu are in critical condition,” Dr Aziz said.

When contacted, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre Executive Director Dr Seemin Jamali and Civil Hospital Karachi Medical Superintendent Dr M Taufeeq told Express News that dedicated isolation units for the treatment of the virus have been set up at their hospitals.


Emergency meeting

After reports of swine flu cases in Karachi, the health department also held a meeting, presided over by Health Secretary Dr Fazalullah Pechuho, with representatives of the World Health Organisation. Dr Pechuho briefed the meeting about the measures taken by the government, including awareness campaigns and provision of vaccines against swine flu.

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The city’s director of health services lamented that the government was struggling to combat the disease due to a meager budget and unavailability of resources. “We are using whatever resources are available at our disposal,” he said.

“We are trying to compile health data at the government level,” he explained, adding that a joint strategy will soon be formulated with the health department.

Stressing on the importance of being vaccinated against swine flu, Dr Shaikh said anti-swine flu vaccines are easily available in the market. The vaccines cost between Rs400 and Rs450 and help protect against the disease for a year.

The provincial health department has already issued instructions regarding management of swine flu. The contagious virus spreads during winters and pregnant women and the elderly people can easily catch the disease. The virus can also spread to people who come in contact with affected birds. The virus starts emerging at the onset of winters and may continue to spread until March. 

No facilities

“Public hospitals in Karachi do not have labs for diagnosing viral diseases like swine flu. Helpless patients affected by viral infections have to pay hefty amounts to get their tests done in private hospitals. Government facilities for diagnosing viral infections are only available in Islamabad, but patients must wait for two to three weeks for test reports,” Dr Shaikh told Express News.

No government hospital in Karachi has the kits needed to screen the highly contagious virus, said Solangi, adding that populations most prone to the virus include infants, pregnant women and the elderly.

Barring Jinnah and Civil hospitals, no public hospital has facilities for treatment of the fatal influenza virus, he said.


Dos and don’ts

Dr Shamail Zia told Express News that swine flu can take three different forms. The symptoms include high fever, headache, body pain and occasional diarrhoea. Patients affected by swine flu should carefully clear their runny nose with a separate handkerchief, Dr Zia warned, adding that the flu victims must also stay away from immune-compromised populations such as infants, the elderly and pregnant women. The virus can be fatal for diabetics and people with heart diseases.

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“The virus severely affects the immune system once it enters the body,” Dr Zia said, adding that the disease can also cause complications like pneumonia and shortness of breath.

To prevent the disease from spreading, patients should cover their mouth with a mask, Zia said, adding that the virus can spread through sneezing or coughing so it is important that the patient does not share their room with others.

Cautioning people, he said that those affected should increase their intake of hot beverages in addition to taking anti-allergic medication prescribed by doctors. “Patients with the flu should avoid excessive intake of antibiotics,” Dr Zia advised, adding that taking medicines without prescription can be fatal.

Because of low immunity, infants and children are advised to keep away from patients affected by swine flu, he said, adding that people with poor or weak immune systems can easily catch the virus. Parents of school-going children must take particular care by telling their kids to take safety and hygiene precautions against the virus.

“The flu is a common problem among schoolchildren,” he said, adding that children affected by the flu should be made to stay home by their teachers so that other children remain safe.

According to Dr Zia, the diagnosis for swine flu involves patient screening using Rapid Influenza Kits. “Once diagnosed, doctors administer anti-viral treatment to the flu patients” he explained.

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