New Delhi: Shaken by the death of a 14-year-old schoolgirl who succumbed to swine flu due to "delayed treatment", the government on Tuesday said all those who exhibit H1N1 symptoms have to report to government hospitals, but would be allowed home quarantine if the case warrants.
The announcement was made by the Joint Secretary Vineet Chawdhry in a press conference after a high level meeting at the Health Ministry.
"We want to address the apprehension and concerns of the people and don`t want a repeat (of the Pune incident)," he told reporters.
Understanding that fear of being forcefully isolated in hospitals leads to many unreported cases, the government declared that patients with severe symptoms will be quarantined but not in hospitals, as was the requirement earlier. They will now be allowed to go home but will be asked to shun work and public interaction and stay confined.
However, he said that home quarantine would be allowed only if the government doctor permits.
Travellers from abroad will have to undergo confinement within hospital premises in order to rule out any risk. Chawdhry said that with seasonal flu setting in, more people are reporting sick with swine flu-like symptoms. The clinical assessment would make it clear whether the person was affected with H1N1 or not.
He also said that a person with symptoms will have to give more than one sample for testing as swine flu is established only after 3-4 tests.
"After the clinical assessment, the designated medical officer would decide about the medication. Except for serious cases, the person would be allowed to go home," he told reporters.
Chawdhry announced a 24-hour toll free number 1705 where help will be available immediately. The government has also assured of drug availability in the country and said that nearly ten million Tamiflu tablets are stacked in government hospitals.
Chawdhry said in case the test is negative for the flu, the patient would be informed.
"These guidelines have been issued in public interest and would be reviewed from time to time keeping in mind the spread of the pandemic and its severity in the country," Chawdhry said.
He described the death of the girl as "irreparable loss to the family" and expressed concern and regret.
"The state government has asked for an explanation from the Pune hospital. We are awaiting their comments," he added.
Earlier in the day a high level meeting chaired by Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was held to issue fresh guidelines and was attended by Health Secretary Naresh Dayal, Secretary Health Research VN Katoch and DGHS RK Srivastva, Health Ministry sources said.
Talking to news channels on the death of a 14-year-old Pune girl, the first victim of swine flu in India, the Health Minister said that the private hospital got the correct treatment "too late.
"It is a deterrent when a person develops symptoms of flu it is compulsory that he be hospitalised and isolated. Most people don`t like that. We have had talks with experts and doctors and are going to issue new guidelines today which say that it is not necessary to isolate a person at the first instance," Azad said.
The new guidelines will also allow certain private hospitals to collect samples from suspected H1N1 virus patients and send them for laboratory tests.
Reiterating the history of the Pune case, Azad said the teen had fever and was taken to a doctor who treated her for normal flu. Then she went home. When her condition did not improve, she was again taken to a private hospital and was treated for normal flu for the first two days.
"When her condition deteriorated and lungs were affected then they (hospital officials) realised that it was not normal because flu doesn`t affect the lungs. But by that time it was too late. It was too late for the Tamiflu medication," Azad said