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Friday, August 28, 2009

Swine Flu in children: issues

Swine flu (Novel H1N1 influenza), which had promised to come in a big way in Asia, is indeed upon us in India. As of today, thousands have been afflicted, hundreds hospitalised and about 70 have succumbed to the disease. As parents, you must be worried about this as far as your children and your family are concerned.

The fact is that swine flu is a communicable disease that spreads rapidly only through respiratory particles coughed or sneezed at an unaffected person, or left behind on towels, napkins etc. which are shared with an uninfected individual. It is feasible to remain unaffected by remaining about a metre away from all people at all times, by washing hands with a real soap solution frequently, but especially after coming in contact with a suspected individual, and by not sharing amenities like towels, napkins etc. with other people. I know that's a bit tough to follow at times, but what I am trying to say is that it is indeed possible to be NOT affected by it.

At the same time, the other good news is that for the majority of the people around the world, swine flu is like any other flu, with cough, sneezing, fever, headache, muscle and bone aches, throat pain and so on dominating the symptom list. The illness is self-limiting, which means that after it has run its course, it tends to recover without any treatment. It tends to get more serious only in individuals who are sick with immune deficiencies, chronic diseases and nutritional weakness, and in small infants, whose immunity is also weak.

Okay, so do all patients with this illness need Tamiflu (oseltamavir) treatment? Well, that's a yes and a no, because it would make sense to treat this problem just as we treat other illnesses; however, the problem is the less than proper effectiveness and an unacceptable incidence of side effects, esp. in children.

Is a vaccine around the corner? No. Although a vaccine may be available by September end, it is unlikely to reach the common man for now. It is likely to be administered first to the U.S. army and defence personnel before going out to those who are at increased vulnerability.

Any more information of a vital nature? Not really, but the bottom line is that one should not panic about this illness.


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