PUNE/JAIPUR/HYDERABAD: There has been a sudden surge in the number of swine flu cases and fatalities as a result across the country in January, compared to sporadic cases of the disease last year.
Officials in Pune said 661 people were diagnosed with the deadly virus while 60 died of swine flu this month.
Telangana reported maximum cases (238) followed by Delhi (179), Gujarat (91), Rajasthan (67) and Maharashtra (42).
Rajasthan has been the worst hit, where the toll from swine flu mounted to 29 with two more deaths on Wednesday. Two men, aged 24 and 38, died in Jaipur and Ajmer while five tested positive.
In Ajmer, the health department was put on high alert and leaves of medical staff were cancelled after four deaths were reported from the city and nearby Nagaur district over last three days.
Hyderabad recorded four more swine flu deaths on Wednesday as toll from the disease mounted to 24 in January.
Authorities said the swine flu virus was now spreading to the interiors of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Experts say there is no real reason that explains resurgence of the swine flu virus - A (H1N1) pdm09.
"The pandemic activity of the virus was noted in 2013 and also in the summer of 2012, but it was almost absent in 2014," National Institute of Virology (NIV)'s influenza research head Mandeep Chadha told TOI in Pune on Wednesday.
Chadha said the behaviour pattern of influenza viruses such as swine flu is unpredictable. "We cannot predict how much worse the virus transmission could get in the next few days. In 2013, this influenza activity was observed throughout March, but together with influenza A H3N2."
Chadha said they have studied only few isolates of the virus this season, but they do not differ much from the original strain when asked about the change observed in the genetic make-up of the virus.
"The National Centre for Disease Control in New Delhi has also observed the same. The virus is till very much susceptible to Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) tablets. Hence, there is no need to panic."
Chadha pointed out death rate due to swine flu cannot be conclusively drawn based on the figures. "This is because we have stopped testing mild cases of infection. Only throat swabs of critically ill patients are being tested for confirmation."
She underlined the health machinery should create awareness about universal respiratory hygiene and vaccinate high risk groups against the swine flu virus.
"People should also adopt universal precautionary measures like avoiding overcrowded places, maintaining respiratory hygiene, healthy habits and lifestyles," Chadha said.
In Maharashtra, over 3.51 lakh people were screened for the influenza in January. Of them, 843 people were administered Tamiflu tablets as a precautionary measure.
"There were only three swine flu cases and no deaths due to the virus in Maharashtra in January last year. But this year, the virus has already infected 42 people and claimed 14 lives in the last 26 days in the state. That accounts for a high mortality rate of 33%," a health official said.