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January 9, 2018



38 swine flu cases confirmed in Karachi

Karachi could be on the verge of a swine flu outbreak as some 38 patients infected with the H1N1 strain of the infectious airborne influenza virus have been admitted to the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in the past three weeks, The News has learnt.

“We have received dozens of suspected cases of H1N1 influenza since the middle of December. Following medical tests, 38 people have been confirmed to be infected by the virus as of January 8,” an AKUH official confirmed to The News on Monday.

The hospital is the only health centre in the metropolis which has the diagnostic facilities which can detect the presence of the virus. So far, no death in the city has been attributed to the lethal viral flu which has already claimed 18 lives in southern Punjab, particularly in Multan, the AKUH official said.

However, when contacted, Director Health Karachi Tahir Aziz claimed that AKUH had informed them of only four people who had tested positive for H1N1 or swine flu on January 2, “Several patients had come to the private hospital with symptoms similar to those of swine flu, of which four tested positive for the highly-infectious disease,” Aziz said.

H1N1, known commonly as swine flu, is a contagious disease which spreads through droplets of infected individuals when they sneeze or cough without covering the mouth or nose. Anyone nearby can get infected when they inhale those droplets. Unlike the common flu or Rhinovirus, swine flu or H1N1 is a deadly disease, which has so far killed around 18 people in south Punjab.

Sindh has not had a functional comprehensive Disease Early Warning System (DEWS) in place since December 2014 when the World Health Organization wrapped up its warning system in the province and offered to hand it to the Sindh government which refused to adopt it. DEWS keeps track of outbreaks of infectious diseases and issues advisories and warnings in case a threat arises from deadly pathogens.

According to Aziz, the Karachi health director, there is no lab capable of identifying H1N1 virus in the public sector in Sindh, so he has directed district health officers (DHOs) to send samples of suspected swine flu cases to the National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad for confirmation.

He said that so far no public or private hospital other than AKUH had reported any confirmed case of H1N1 flu. He, however, added that hospitals have been put on high alert after the confirmation of swine flu cases in Karachi.

Urging Karachi residents to be careful, Aziz said, “Masks are available in the market and flu patients should wear them to prevent their family members and others from getting infected. Regular hand washing with soap also helps avoid viral infections.”

Dr Shahana Urooj Kazmi, a leading microbiologist and the rector of Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education, expressed concern over the confirmed swine flu cases in the city. She said the health department would have to be proactive and bring the situation under control before fear and panic grips residents due to unconfirmed or misleading reports.

“H1N1 causes severe illness, especially to those with weak immunity,” she said. “Mortality due to H1N1 influenza is 10-20 per cent, which makes it highly lethal.”

The disease’s symptoms include cough, fever, sore throat and a runny nose but complications can lead to pneumonia, other lung infections and breathing problems. Ultimately due to asphyxia, an infected person may die, Shahana said.

According to her, experts take the threat of swine flu “very seriously” since H1N1 has been behind two major pandemics. In 1918 the disease killed tens of millions of people – an estimated 2 to 3 per cent of the world population back then. More recently, a second H1N1 pandemic emerged in 2009; the WHO reported its death toll to be an estimated 18,000.