Children, elderly most susceptible to swine flu, say experts

NEW DELHI - Children and old people, especially those suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes and heart problems, are most prone to catch the swine flu virus that has created havoc globally, experts here said.

Thirty cases have been confirmed in India since swine flu was first reported on May 16. Of the total, eight children have been tested positive in Punjab, five children in Hyderabad and one each in Coimbatore and Bangalore. The age of the children varies from 20 months to 17 years.

There are higher chances of children getting the virus as their immunity is low. In the US, where deaths have occurred due to the virus, schools had to be closed as it transfers fast among children who are cloistered together, Randeep Guleria, head of medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told IANS.

The swine flu is just like the seasonal flu. It is always children and the older people who are susceptible to it. They are extremely vulnerable. They catch the infection faster because their immunity is low, he added.

Influenza A (H1N1) infection was first detected in Hyderabad where a six-year-old girl and her one-and-a-half-year-old brother, who had come from the US, were tested positive. Surprisingly, the parents’ tests were found to be negative.

Eight schoolchildren of Punjab’s Jalandar city tested positive for swine flu. They were part of a group of 31 students and three teachers of the Guru Amar Das Public School who had gone to New York and Florida on an educational trip to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Guleria said infection among children takes a long time to go so parents should keep them home for more then a week after they recover, and not send them to school.

He said the elderly, who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes or heart problems or are taking medicines for chronic bronchitis or asthma, also have greater chances of getting the infection.

The professor said that the virus is mild at the moment, but the concern is that it could mutate and could become virulent.

It is difficult to predict the behaviour of the virus and it comes in waves. At the moment, people have mild infections but if it comes again, it could prove dangerous or there could be mortality, he added.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which Thursday raised its alert against swine flu to the highest level - Phase 6 - about 76 countries have officially reported 35,928 cases of the H1N1 infection, including 163 deaths. Most of these deaths are reported from Mexico (108) and the US (45).

The swine flu pandemic is the first since the Hong Kong flu pandemic in 1968, which killed one million people worldwide.

Arvind Taneja, director of paediatric services at Max Devki Devi Heart and Vascular Institute, said: “In India, the human-to-human transmission has been seen among infants, teenagers and the old. It is clear that these people are more vulnerable.

The first human-to-human transmission was reported in Hyderabad where a 28-year-old techie, who was coming from the US via London, was detected with the flu.

He reached Hyderabad airport May 31, but reported to the hospital with swine flu symptoms on June 1. By that time, he had transmitted it to his younger brother as well as a 31 year-old woman and her four-and-half-year old daughter, who were travelling with him on the same flight.

The same was seen in Delhi where a 60-year-old woman caught the infection from her 35-year-old son who reached Delhi from New York June 2 and tested positive. As the man refused to stay in the hospital, his mother took care of him at home and thus got the infection.

“The old have the chances of suffering from complications due to swine flu. Later on they could have kidney problems, muscle pain or liver problems. The community needs to be aware of such problems and should be careful. It is their responsiblity,” said Taneja.

He said the disease was not very severe in India and there was no need to panic. “If there are more then 100 cases, then there are chances of mortality. So far, we have been fortunate.”

“The simple way to minimise the risk is by covering the mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing and wearing a mask while going close to the infected person. Maintaining high level of hygiene is also important and one should always wash hands frequently with soap and water,” he added.

Tarun Sahani, senior consultant in the internal medicine department in Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, said: “If a child has suffered from swine flu in his childhood, there are some chances of it having complications in the future. But it is as rare as one in a million.”

Jacob Phuliyel, head of paediatrics department at the St. Stephen’s Hospital, said: “People should be aware and be prepared for the next time because the virus might come back.”

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