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Are swine flu cases being misreported?

Copyright: rupaghosh / 123RF Stock Photo
Motorists in Patna wear face masks to protect against swine flu.

Swine flu has killed seventeen people in Uttarakhand state capital Dehradun, out of 81 cases reported. At least, that’s if you ask the health department.

There are questions being raised over these figures. The Sant Mahant Indiresh Hospital (SMIH) alone witnessed fifteen deaths and 81 cases between January 1st and February 4th. The disparity between what just one hospital has reported and what officials are reporting for the entire city is lending itself to allegations that the city’s health department is downplaying the true scale of the swine flu outbreak.

Swine flu has been making its rounds as India’s flu season is getting underway. In the last month, the virus killed 226 people with more than 6,000 Indians testing positive for the disease. More than 1,000 people are believed to be affected in Delhi alone.

“Apparent downplaying of the city’s swine flu burden can be suggest to suggest a health department in denial”

The case in Dehradun may be a microcosm of the national disease burden. Yet what the story suggests is concerning, to say the least. Apparent downplaying of the city’s swine flu burden can be seen to suggest a health department in denial – and could obstruct efforts to combat the virus’s spread.

“We compile data of deaths according to the information given to us by private as well as government hospitals,” claims Dehradun’s chief medical officer Dr S. K. Gupta. “If there is any mismatch we will cross-verify it with the hospitals concerned.”

Yet the SMIH claims to have verified all of its swine flu cases. “We have a lab that has been authorized by the Centre,” says the hospital’s senior public relations officer Bhupender Raturi. “We have regularly shared details with the health department.”

Dehradun witnessed eight swine flu deaths in sixteen days last month. Given the infectious nature of the disease, any official misreporting of figures – whether due to human error or underreporting from hospitals – could pose a significant challenge in containing and responding to outbreaks.

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