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Pune civic body unprepared for swine flu concerns during Ganeshotsav

Out of the 22 cases of swine flu reported this year, 7 patients have died, but despite the urgency of the situation, PMC health officials are refusing to acknowledge the threat the H1N1 virus poses to the crowded Ganpati pandals in the city

Popular for its vibrant Ganeshotsav celebrations, Pune draws devotees from the city, its outskirts and from across the state in lakhs each year. An old adage goes, the more the merrier, but that may not be the case this year, as there are concerns that the crowds may increase the chances of a rise in swine flu cases in the city.

Swine Flu Mask

However, even with reports of recent swine flu (H1N1) virus-affected patients, the Pune Municipal Corporation has not put any precautionary measures in place to prevent a larger outbreak. While PMC officials acknowledge that the possibility of an increase in cases is very real, Acting Chief Medical Officer for the PMC, Dr S T Pardeshi, offers bewildering logic to explain their inaction. “The patients reported to be affected by swine flu are not residents of Pune city, but have come from outside areas.

Ganpati devotees
There are concerns that the lakhs of Ganpati devotees visiting Pune could possibly spread swine flu in the city. File pic for representation

We are aware that the crowds coming to see the decoration of Ganesh mandals in the city has increased the possibility of a rise in swine flu infections. Citizens are already gripped by the fear of Ebola, and we don’t want to add to the panic by distributing masks or announcing precautionary measures,” Pardeshi stated.

Dr Sharad Agarkhedkar, IMA member
Dr Sharad Agarkhedkar, IMA member

Pardeshi further went on record to say that, in order to avoid panic, the PMC was not informing people of the danger of the swine flu virus spreading during Ganeshotsav due to the large crowds.

PMC’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr S T Pardeshi
PMC’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr S T Pardeshi

Commenting on swine flu cases in the city, Dr M S Chaddha, deputy director of the National Institute of Virology, said, “We receive samples throughout the year, out of which some test positive for swine flu. We can’t comment offhand about the number of cases reported during Ganpati festival.”

No prevention mechanism
But, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has slammed the PMC for being ill-prepared to deal with the virus. Despite seven deaths out of the 22 cases reported this year, there is no mechanism in place to gauge the spread of the virus. According to the IMA, the PMC currently has only a handful of medicines in stock to combat swine flu, not even close to the amount needed to treat the city’s population.

Patients with symptoms similar to swine flu are often not even swabbed for a confirming lab test until very late, said Sharad Agarkhedkar, former president of the Pune unit of the IMA. “The PMC has only 90 tablets of Tamiflu and 33 bottles of flu medicines. Are they enough for a population of more than 35 lakh people? The PMC should actually distribute medicines
in all corners of the city to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus,” Agarkhedkar told this paper.

He added, “The National Institute of Virology has geared up for Ebola, but what about swine flu? There is no mechanism for reporting the number of swine flu cases. Tests are conducted only if the patient is put on ventilator support.”

Precautions against H1N1

>> Avoid crowded areas
>> Cover nose and mouth with a handkerchief or mask
>> Wash hands every four hours and before eating
>> Do not put fingers into nose or mouth.
>> With symptoms like cold, cough or fever, consult a doctor immediately

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