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India Enacts New Guidelines After 1st Swine Flu Death

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Indian health authorities have issued fresh guidelines after the country's first confirmed death from the H1N1 Influenza-A virus. The new rules include the right to forcibly quarantine those with severe symptoms believed caused by swine flu.

Delays in properly diagnosing a 14-year-old girl in Pune are blamed for contributing to her death - the first time India has recorded a fatality from swine flu.

Authorities say Reeda Shaikh first showed symptoms of a runny nose, sore throat and a headache on July 21, but returned to school after consulting a doctor.  She developed a fever again on the 25 and was admitted to a private nursing home, two days later.

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad says an initial test by a clinic determined the girl did not have the H1N1 virus.  When her condition did not improve she was transferred to a second medical facility and initially treated for pneumonia.

"And when both lungs were involved, that particular private hospital went for H1N1 tests.  And, it was unfortunately found positive.  But by that time it was too late for the medicine to [have an] effect," Azad said.

An attorney for the Shaikh family, Asif Lampwala, speaking at a news conference, said Reeda's parents intend to file civil and criminal cases in connection with her death. 

"We're going to teach a lesson to these private hospitals. We're going to sue them for damages. And we're going to claim huge sums of money from them. We're not interested in the money. The money which we obtain will be given to charity," Lampwala said.

The chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, calls the first swine flu death in the country a result of total negligence on the part of those who admitted the student to a private facility.

Suspected swine flu cases are supposed to be treated at government hospitals, the only facilities authorized to test for H1N1 and where the medication Tamiflu is available.

The Indian central government on Tuesday announced anyone with swine flu symptoms should go to designated government hospitals and the severely affected will be quarantined.

Maharashtra state has invoked, in two hard-hit districts, the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, allowing authorities there to forcibly quarantine patients. Local councils are to check students for signs of swine flu in schools. But chief minister Chavan says there is no need for the public to be alarmed.

"People need not panic about this. The state government is making all efforts to see that this is controlled in time," Chavan said.

About one-fifth of India's total of 550 reported cases of H1N1 are in Maharashtra, with most of the state's cases coming from Pune,  about 115 kilometers southeast of Mumbai.

Swine flu has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization, although scientists say the virus appears less deadly in humans than initially feared.

Since the H1N1 virus was first detected in Mexico, four months ago, more than 800 deaths have been reported worldwide. 


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
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