Thursday, 30 April 2009

No threat of swine inluenza in Andhra Pradesh

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 28: Andhra Pradesh has the third largest pig population in the country and yet experts in infectious diseases allay fears of an immediate outbreak of swine flu in the State.
Nabard statistics project pig population in the country at about 16 million. Uttar Pradesh with about 20 lakhs pigs leads the country, followed by Bihar with 14 lakhs pigs. Andhra Pradesh stands third with about 10 lakhs pig population. Pig breeding farms in the State are largely located at Gannavaram, Gopannapalem,
Muktalya, Padavagi, Tirupati and Vishakapatnam.
Though the first ever known case of swine flu was recorded in different parts of the world during 1918, the peninsular India has always been off the radar of this dangerous influenza virus. The fact that swine flu was never reported in Andhra Pradesh or its neighbouring areas in the past 90 years makes health planners
confident that the virus will miss the State this time too.
Virologists caution that any laxity on the part of medical and health authorities will lead to spread of pig flu
in the region, though it has thus far been a safe zone. The threat, however, looms large over Andhra Pradesh since Hyderabad has of late emerged as an aviation hub in South-East Asia.
"There's no need to panic. Andhra Pradesh is safe as far as pig flu is concerned. All we have to do is to take precautionary measures like screening of passengers coming from countries where the disease is endemic.
The problem with the swine flu virus is that it mutates rapidly and there are no known cases of the disease from this region," said Dr Sunit Singh, who heads an infectious diseases research team in the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.
According to Prof Rami Reddy Guntaka of The University of Tennessee, USA, it is possible that those who got infected directly from pigs may be more at risk than human to human transmission. "We do not have the epidemiological data. Very likely it may subside soon in two to three weeks as the summer weather is not
conducive for virus survival. It may return in fall or winter," he cautioned.
He, however, does not rule out the spread of the disease to India during winter. "Since now air travel is so common, it can spread from one country to another, rather very easily. Since it is hot weather in India, it is a
blessing because the virus does not survive long times at 40 degrees C," Prof Rami Reddy added.
According to WHO, there are no vaccines that contain the current swine influenza virus causing illness in humans. It is not known whether current human seasonal influenza vaccines can provide any protection. "It is important to develop a vaccine against the currently circulating virus strain for it to provide maximum
protection to the vaccinated people. We made attempts in the past too. If the situation so warrants, we can develop a vaccine," said Dr MN Khaja, senior scientist and vice-president of Sudarshan Biotech.
The good news, health authorities point out, is most of the previously reported swine influenza cases recovered fully from the disease without requiring medical attention and without antiviral medicines.

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Syed Akbar at the 11th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity