Seasonal maladies abound
With the monsoon around the corner, Chennai is grappling with a spate of flu-related infections since the beginning of the month. The onset of influenza was coupled with a rise in Covid-19 cases too. Earlier last week, there were over 368 active cases of AH1N1 as well as 5,395 active cases of Covid-19 reported in the State, along with 280 cases of dengue. About 1,044 cases of influenza have been reported in TN since January, with 364 active cases. Last Tuesday, two persons including a student tested positive for swine flu in Tiruvarur and had been isolated.
As hospitals across the State reported a surge in viral infections such as influenza A and respiratory syncytial virus-led pneumonia, health officials were quick to rebuff claims that we might be faced with an epidemic of sorts. However, it seems obvious that cases are set to rise in Tamil Nadu considering its track record vis-a-vis testing and inoculation. For instance, over the past one month, the quantum of testing has plummeted from 20,000 tests in August last week to 17,000 cases right now. To top it off, less than 20% of the State’s population has been vaccinated with the third or booster shot of the Covid vaccine. This is compounded by the fact that there is next to non-existent coverage for the annual flu shot among the masses.
The absence of adequate testing facilities in small towns in Tamil Nadu has also emerged as a pain point as in cities like Madurai, AH1N1 test samples are sent off to Coimbatore as the temple town doesn’t have enough labs for testing such samples. Experts remarked that there could be recurrent episodes of infection as there are different strains of the virus that cause the flu, and it can occur post recovery as well. The surge has prompted officials in the School Education department to assess the situation and devise SOPs accordingly. School managements have been instructed to advise parents to avoid sending their wards to school, in the event of them showing symptoms such as high fever and cold.
While there are no plans afoot of closing down schools due to the spike in cases, the government could consider conducting classes in shifts, to reduce the risk of contagion. Declaring holidays is being seen as the last option considering how badly the pandemic had wrecked the academic calendars of students during the coronavirus outbreak. Health Minister Ma Subramanian had reassured citizens that the State was fully prepared to tackle the surge, thanks to the adequate number of beds available in hospitals, doctors and drugs. During the pandemic, the enforcement of masking and social distancing in public places, and the option to Work From Home had protected citizens from flu and flu-like illnesses. Now that there is some sense of normalcy, our masks have been lowered, and so have our guards that would have protected us against such ailments.
There are a few takeaways from the scenes that transpired here. The State must step in and build a momentum around getting people inoculated with their annual flu vaccines, a measure that is common in developed nations. It will be necessary for Tamil Nadu to make such healthcare mandates, a part and parcel of its political agenda. Whether we like it or not, the ideas of masking and hand hygiene, so prevalent in southeast Asian nations could turn into an everyday reality for us as well.