LAHORE - Swine flu has reached epidemic proportions in parts of the province, affecting thousands of people in Multan, Bahawalpur and Lahore.

More than 50 people have so far died since outbreak of the H1N1 in November 2017.

Though majority of the confirmed cases and causalities have been reported from South Punjab, the situation is going from bad to worst in Lahore.  So far, 125 confirmed cases have been reported with four H1N1-related casualties in Lahore.

Health Services Director General Dr Akhtar Rasheed said the situation was not that bad, as number of patients of H1N1 was decreasing all over the province. He said free medicine, Tami Flu, has been provided to public sector/private hospitals. “Healthcare providers have already been vaccinated. After giving vaccines at hospitals for case repose, it was available in abundance at government warehouse. Tami Flu is available to cater to needs of 20,000 patients,” he said.

Family physicians, first qualified contacts for patients, however, depicted a much more serious situation.

Hundreds of suspected H1N1 patients are approaching family physicians for treatment every day. But the cases reported at government hospitals are far less in number due to a lack of proper referral system.  “The number of cases suggested by the government is far less than the actual number. I can give the details of a patient who died from swine flu but is not added in the data given by the government. I am attending 30-40 influenza patients every day. Majority of these are swine flu patients (80 per cent H1N1 and the remaining H3N2),” said leading family physician Dr Arshad Humayoun. He said that definitely swine flu has reached epidemic proportions, with increasing number of patients after every passing day.

Dr Arshad, who is also holding the office of general secretary of a family physician’s body – Family Medicine and Education Centre, stressed the need for the government to realise gravity of the situation and give due attention to the issue instead of using all energies on portraying swine flu as seasonal influenza. “H1N1 and H3N2 strains are known as swine flu everywhere in the world. The virus was first reported in swine and later in humans after mutation. Instead of changing name, the focus should be on saving people from the deadly virus. The government should develop SOPs after due consultation with family physicians, prepare guidelines for doctors and launch mass awareness campaign regarding symptoms and precautionary measures to check spread of swine flu ,” he said.  Another leading family physician seconded the viewpoint of Dr Arshad.  “I am attending 10-12 swine flu patients daily. There is need for launching a massive vaccination campaign to avoid swine flu pandemic in future,” said Dr Abdul Rauf, adding, awareness campaign about measures to check spread of virus was need of the hour.  Dr Shahid Saeed, president of Family Medicine Education Centre, shared the same view.

“More than a dozen suspected swine flu patients are visiting my clinic every day. I don’t know how many of these will become part of the government notified patients. There is a need for assessing the situation and taking steps accordingly,” he said.  In addition to those for normal influenza, symptoms of swine flu include shortness of breath, chest pain, diarrhea, vomiting. Body aches, headache, sore throat, runny nose, cough and weakness are common symptoms. “It spreads by droplets sprayed by coughing/sneezing,” said Dr Shahid Saeed.  “Precautionary measures include vaccination, hand hygiene, avoidance of contact with persons with respiratory illnesses that were actively having episodes of cough and sneezing, education about cough etiquettes, use of a handkerchief or tissue or coughing/sneezing into the hollow of one’s elbow – essentially being sensitive about the possibility of transferring illness to other people,” he said.