Why All the Whine About the Swine


The IPL is over, cinema has sunk to an all time low and there aren’t any more dying pop stars left. Swine flu seems to be the media’s newest muse. What is intriguing is that many diseases, which might not have the same glam quotient as swine flu, are being grossly neglected. In 2008 alone there were fifteen lakh Malaria patients in India that is more than all the swine flu cases in the world. There were eight lakh TB patients in 2008 and about 1000 TB related deaths per day! Five crore people across the country have some kind of infectious disease. The HIV-AIDS pandemic in 1980s was much more severe but probably not as marketable, maybe due to the somewhat higher morals in that period. The death stats contribute to the misleading. 95% of the victims had other life threatening diseases and the remaining 5% were just plain unlucky, like all the other healthy people who die of seasonal flu every year. An example is one of the victims of swine flu in Chennai, a forty five year old man, who had bronchial asthma as well as a history of sever tuberculosis.

Road hogs are particularly susceptible
Road hogs are particularly susceptible

The virus is actually a cocktail of human, bird and swine strains of the virus. It has a very mild effect on pigs and they’re generally back to top grunting condition in 5-6 days. Swine-origin Flu is a more factually correct name and would spare the innocent cob rollers all the bad publicity. Moreover, people with Swine flu say that it is less severe and certainly briefer than a bad cold.

Every executive worth his brain’s weight in knickers is cashing in on the flu revolution. Leading the brigade is the media, especially the red-tops, with scaremongering headlines aimed squarely at innocent people. It is not just the private sector that is making merry, as the government isn’t far behind, for instance the episode on 13th August when the death count of the country actually reduced. It was 24 in the morning and by evening it went back to 21! All our hopes of the authorities mastering death were floored when the fallacy was later attributed to overenthusiastic staff which confirmed 3 deaths as swine flu victims even before the test results came out.

The Big Daddy of them all is Roche, the producers of Tamiflu, the only known treatment for Swine flu. The treatment is highly ineffective and they admit that it has various side effects including very severe skin disorders. As of now Tamiflu is not available for retail sale. The government buys 10 tablets for Rs 270, but in the black market 10 tablets sell for as much as 10000 bucks!

The best example to support this exploitation of human psyche are designer masks. Gucci, Louis Vuiton and Dolce & Gabbana have all launched their range of Swine flu masks complete with the ridiculously high price tags. These masks are aimed at the affluent fluers, who claim they caught it on their recent escapade to the swanky party in San Fran. The two thousand-odd swine flu death toll has everyone wanting to wear a mask but the twenty million people killed by AIDS still hasn’t made a condom fashionable enough.

The swine flu status in the Insti – there is nothing to sweat about, forgive the pun. Ample precautions are being taken, Swine flu testing is being done and most hostels have already been covered. Swine flu can be prevented by simple precautions such as washing hands before eating, avoiding crowded places, warm saline gargle etc. The Insti hospital is also retailing masks and has got two types –
1. Rs 5: Last for 4 hours and looks best with a white tee and light blue denims
2. Rs 115: Lasts for two days and goes with almost anything

For more insti specific information we had interviewed the CMO (Chief Medical Officer).

TFE: What are the steps taken by the institute hospital to curb the onslaught of swine flu?
CMO: The whole swine flu affair started in August. First of all the major step was to screen all hostels. Each and every student was examined thoroughly by a team of qualified doctors. The suspected cases were identified viz. students with flu like symptoms, and those who had cold and cough were given medicines on the spot. They were also informed about the precautions they should take. The cases which had high probability of being H1N1 +ve were admitted in the hospital right away and examined. Some of the cough and cold patients were advised Room Quarantine. Special permission was sought from CCW to provide these students with food in their rooms. These steps were taken keeping in mind the highly contagious nature of the disease

TFE: What is the official census of swine flu cases in the institute? What was the severity of the infection?
CMO: The number of swine flu cases in the institute as per 24th September is 12. They were treated in the Infectious Disease Hospital, Tondiarpet. All of them have fully recovered, and there were no complications with any of the patients.

TFE: A month ago we could feel the panic that swine flu created, but all that seems a distant past today. Is the real picture really as rosy as it seems?
CMO: The scenario is still the same, only the hype seems to be dying out. Swine flu is very much here and the contamination is still going on. Even in the institute if another check was to be conducted now, some +ve cases would definitely be identified.

TFE: The first image that swine flu brings to the mind is people roaming around wearing masks. Our readers would like to know more about them.
CMO: The swine patients in the institute hospital are provided with triple layer masks, PFR 95, or more commonly known as N95. They provide 95% protection against swine flu virus. But one thing to be kept in mind is that NO masks are washable. They have to be disposed off after a single use. If they are not properly disposed they could spread the virus instead of stopping it.

In the present of scenario there is no burning need of masks as most of us would have come in contact with the virus and hence have developed a first line of immunity. Therefore the protection that low end masks provide is superfluous. Moreover these masks are effective when the patients themselves wear the masks. I would personally advise the students to carry a mask with them, especially when they are going to crowded places, closed rooms, or using public transport. In class if a person near you has cough or cold you can just slip on a mask for extra protection.

1.The Times of India, 21st August 2009
2. Dan Roberts as seen on 19th September 2009
3. Roche official website as seen on 19th September 2009
4. Dr. Sabitha Selvam , Chief Medical Officer , Institute Hospital, interviewed on 24th September 2009

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