Swine flu: Rajasthan varsity shut, Kashmir sees deaths

Even as central and state health authorities twiddle their thumbs and make unconvincing noises of reassurance, the resurgent swine flu is spreading its tentacles across India.

Teaching was suspended on Tuesday at a top law institute in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, which draws students from across India, amid the fast-spreading H1N1 virus which has claimed 179 lives since January alone.

Rajasthan is one of the worst hit states in the country and the death toll is the highest among all the states hit by the latest swine flu outbreak.

Sohanlal Sharma, the registrar of National Law University in Jodhpur, said that classes have been suspended till 1 March after one of the students tested positive for swine flu, triggering panic on the campus.

The condition of the fifth-year student, identified only by his first name Akhilesh, is improving after he was treated at the university's clinic located within the campus.

''The students have not been asked to vacate the hostels but they can go on leave till 1 March,'' Sharma said.

Around 500 students from different states are studying in the university, which has a residential campus.

Jodhpur district has recorded 18 deaths, including a 70-year-old Swiss tourist who succumbed to the disease in the second week of February.  On Tuesday, the toll touched 179 - the highest in six years - after three more people died in different places, health officials said, adding that over 3,000 people have been found H1N1 positive out of 7,435 samples tested.

Faced with a mounting number of dead, health minister Rajendra Rathore asked people to seek medical advice at the first signs of flu symptoms.

The government has been saying that the high number of deaths was due to the fact that people were reporting at hospitals only at an advanced stage of the flu. Ashok Panagariya, the chairman of the state level task force, said that a team of critical care experts will soon arrive in Jaipur, which has recorded the highest number of deaths in the state.

Kashmir on alert
Following the reports of two deaths in Kashmir due to swine flu, the health officials on Wednesday said that there is an 'outbreak' of H1N1 in the valley, but added that people should not panic.

Director of the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Showkat Zargar, told reporters in Srinagar that as many as 71 people in the state have tested positive for H1N1. "We advise people to take precautions even if the situation is not yet out of control," Zargar said.

Asking people not to get anxious, the director added that every fever with respiratory symptoms was not due to H1N1.

Acknowledging the trend, SKIMS' Dr Parvez Koul said that the flu spreads mostly in winter. "We cannot say anything conclusive as of now and we want to see how things unfold over a period of time," Koul mentioned.

Meanwhile, the Doctor's Association Kashmir (DAK) has issued a statement claiming that the doctors and paramedical staff are at risk due to lack of adequate facilities to handle swine flu suspects. Officials at SKIMS, however, claimed that they are taking enough precautionary measures to tackle the situation and as of now there is no dearth of medicines in the medical institute.

The health department has requested the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir for 30,000 units of Tamiflu drugs and 5,000 units of personal care equipment, including masks and gloves for doctors.

According to an official at Srinagar's SMHS hospital, the administration is equipped with medicines and in a day or two, the hospital, will also have its own testing lab.

Earlier, the health officials were accused of trying to 'hide' the swine flu outbreak in the valley. However, rebuffing the claims, Zargar said, "We have no reason to brush this information under the carpet and we did not want to spread false reports without proper assessment."