After hospitals in Kashmir witnessed a huge rush of patients with "flu-like sickness" last month, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has confirmed that influenza is "circulating" in the Valley. It has said that over 26 percent samples have tested positive for various strains of influenza.
In response to queries e-mailed by Greater Kashmir, the Director General (DG) of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Dr Soumya Swaminathan responded that "influenza season has commenced" in Kashmir and that "Influenza- B has predominated the positivity."
Dr Swaminathan said that as per the National Institute of Virology (NIV), 26.5 percent samples had tested positive for various influenza viruses in Kashmir. Of these, 20.5 percent samples had tested positive for Influenza B. Further, the data supplied by the NIV to the ICMR reveals that Influenza-A was found to be the strain infecting 6 percent of samples tested. The data had been collected from SKIMS lab run by Dr Parvaiz Koul, as per the official information.
The emailed communication by ICMR elaborates that "Influenza A (H3N2) and influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 was observed in 4.1 and 1.9 percent patients tested."
Pertinently, the data does not specify the number of samples tested.
When Greater Kashmir sought the exact numbers from the head of the Influenza Lab at SKIMS, where these tests had been carried out, Dr Koul replied: "We have tested over 1200 samples and we regularly update the NIV findings."
Dr Koul said during the past month, samples were taken from out-patients and in-patients from SKIMS and various other hospitals "suspected to have influenza" and a "good proportion" of these samples was found to be "Influenza positive".
"Apart from influenza, we have found RSV (Respiratory syncytial Virus), HMPV (Human metapneumovirus), PIV (Para Influenza Virus) and Rhinovirus infections circulating in Kashmir," he said.
Over the past one and a half month, Kashmir hospitals have been grappling with a huge rush of patients, children and adults both, reporting with symptoms of fever, cold, cough, and respiratory distress. While hospital authorities had maintained that the illnesses were "seasonal" and self-limiting, and most people did not require drugs, the health facilities had nonetheless been flooded with people seeking treatment.
As per NIV data, influenza peaked in February when the positivity was reported to be 30 percent. In March, 21 percent of the samples tested were found to be positive. Tests were performed on patients with "severe/acute respiratory illnesses".
Records from SKIMS Soura, GB Pant Hospital and Chest Diseases Hospital, show that although the numbers of patients reporting with different symptoms is on a downward trend, the load was "still very high". GB Pant Hospital premises are often full of children complaining "mostly of flu, cough and cold" while hospital administration reportedly deputed additional doctors to cater to the rush.
At Chest Diseases Hospital, on an average, everyday hundreds of patients are seen in OPD. Dr Khursheed A Dar, Pulmonologist at CD hospital said: "The number (of patients) was 10-20 percent lower than the previous week's figures but unusually higher than normal." At SKIMS, although no figures were available, doctors said, number of patients reporting of influenza was "quite huge still". "There seems to be no let up," Chest Diseases specialists at SKIMS said.
The DG ICMR Dr Swaminathan recommended that people use currently available influenza vaccine for Northern Hemisphere upto May 2017, after which, she advocated the use of Southern Hemisphere influenza vaccine.
Influenza expert Dr Parvaiz A Koul said doctors must use "empirical anti-viral therapy" if they believe that patient is suffering from suspected influenza.
"The data shows that influenza and other viruses are circulating currently. Rather than antibiotics, doctors must use empirical anti-viral drugs," he said.