MUMBAI, India – India is urging its states to ensure sufficient supply of anti-flu medication and diagnostic tests as it struggles to contain an outbreak of H1N1 influenza that has killed more than 700 people in the past eight weeks.
The government said this week that there's no shortage of the medicines to treat the ailment, after news reports said that private pharmacies were running out of the drug as customers rushed to stockpile supplies. The outbreak has so far sickened more than 11,000 people, and killed 703.
More people get the flu in the colder months than the rest of the year, though this year's outbreak of H1N1 — also called swine flu — in northern India is the worst since 2009.
"People are panicking because it's very difficult to differentiate H1N1 from routine flus," Mumbai-based chest specialist Yatin Dholakia said.
"Even for doctors it's hard. It's difficult to say why the death rates this year are so high," he said.
Elderly people, pregnant women, young children, diabetics with improperly controlled sugar levels, and HIV patients are at the highest risk of developing complications following the flu.
Gujarat, Rajasthan, Telangana, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir appear to be the states most affected by the outbreak.
"This is the second time we are having a major outbreak," Narendra Raval, a chest specialist in Ahmedabad in Gujarat said, comparing this year's flu season with that in 2009. "Lot of people come in thinking they have it but very few actually have H1N1."
The disease circulating in India now is caused by the H1N1 strain of the influenza virus, and its symptoms include high fevers, sore throat, fatigue, chills and headaches.
People can acquire the disease by inhaling virus-loaded droplets ejected by a sick patient's coughing or sneezing, or by touching infected surfaces.
The disease has been spreading rapidly. There were 5,157 reported cases with 407 deaths as of Feb. 11, the Health Ministry said. In the following eight days, the number of cases more than doubled, the Press Trust of India reported.
Diagnostic testing services in some cities have been quick to profit on the mass panic by inflating test prices.
The newly elected government in Delhi last week capped the price of the diagnostic test at $72 after news reports that some facilities were charging twice as much, the Financial Express reported.