New Delhi: Concerned over the rising number of deaths due to swine flu across the country, the government has directed that health workers dealing with the disease be vaccinated.
India has witnessed a manifold increase in deaths due to swine flu, also known as H1N1 virus, this year.
About 485 people have lost their lives across the country due to the disease till Feb 12, while 279 people lost their lives in this month alone.
"In review meetings, it was confirmed by experts that the strain which is causing the flu this time is the same one as in the 2009 outbreak, for which vaccines are available," Anshu Prakash, Joint Secretary in the health ministry, told IANS.
"Based on this fact, we have asked all health care institutions to vaccinate their staff dealing with swine flu patients," he said.
The health ministry would soon issue a detailed advisory and guideline to the states.
Anshu Prakash said that it would be the responsibility of the institutions to procure the vaccines as they are easily available in the market.
The H1N1 virus was called the swine flu virus because in 2009, after it first started surfacing globally among humans, it was found to be similar to a virus circulating in the respiratory tracts of pigs.
Randeep Guleria, an internal medicine expert at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told IANS: "There is evidence in India as well as internationally to prove that health care workers are more affected by outbreaks like this kind of flu."
"A healthcare worker can infect not only his immediate family but also patients who have less immunity like those in the Intensive Care Units of hospitals," Guleria said.
The swine flu vaccine available in the market costs around Rs.500.
Of the total number of deaths, Rajasthan has recorded the highest at 130, closely followed by Gujarat at 117.
Both are among the worst hit states along with Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Delhi.
The number of deaths in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Telangana are 56, 51 and 45 respectively and six in Delhi.
While Delhi has recorded the second highest number of cases at 1,189, the number of deaths has been less as compared to other states, an official told IANS.
Guleria said this is a pointer to the fact that early intervention can save lives.
"People in Delhi might be more aware of the symptoms and that might have helped them get early treatment".
According to V.M. Katoch, secretary in the Department of Health Research, the spurt was due to the fact that more cases are being reported this time.
"We have not yet studied the reason for the spurt in the number of deaths due to the disease. This might be due to more reporting this time," Katoch told IANS.
"I have not got any concrete data to show that the strain might have mutated," he added.
A senior health ministry official, who did not want to be named, said that the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and the National Centre for Diseases Control are undertaking a joint study to examine the possible reasons for the H1N1 spurt this year.
Though the union health ministry has been holding high-level meetings, Anshu Prakash said it was primarily the state government's responsibility to tackle the outbreak in their respective areas.
Union Health Secretary B.P. Sharma has held a series of meeting through video-conferencing with senior health officials from Telangana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and shared the instructions on dissemination of information on how to prevent the flu and the treatment protocol to be followed.
The meetings have reviewed the availability of medicines, personal protective equipment and the functioning of isolation wards.
There were also pointers for doctors, rapid response teams and paramedical staff at various district and other government hospitals.
An official who attended the meeting said while most states reported adequate stocks of Tamiflu along with syrup for children and personal protective equipment, some requested for additional of personal protective equipment.
"The requisitioned quantity is being provided to the states immediately. The states have also reported sufficiency of testing facilities and training of the rapid response teams that have been stationed at the district and block levels. Control rooms are functional in all states and at district levels in some places," the official added.
The centre has also stressed on creating awareness among the masses as part of the campaigns, which includes engagement at the community level through inter-personal communication.