India’s Health Ministry has suggested increased surveillance and monitoring of influenza like illnesses (ILIs) in the wake of reports of avian influenza (bird flu) outbreak – in India and globally - and increasing instances of seasonal flu.

Young children and old age persons having co-morbidities have been identified as the most vulnerable groups in case of seasonal influenza.

The Ministy said, it is “monitoring” the situation in relation to both seasonal influenza and bird flu; and “as of now the situation in under control”.

Senior ministry officials said, State governments have been asked to ensure vaccination of healthcare workers dealing with H1N1 cases.

Concerns over Bird Flu

In India, there have been reports of bird flu outbreaks in some States like Jharkhand. In Ranchi, the State capital, two doctors and six staff of a regional poultry farm have been quarantined. As a preventive measure, approximately 1,745 chickens, 450 ducks, and 1,697 eggs have been disposed of as a precautionary measure.

Cases have been detected in two wards of Alappuzah in Kerala.

The Highly Pathogenic Asian Avian Influenza - called A(H5N1) virus - primarily infects birds but can also be transmitted to humans. Close contact with infected birds or contaminated environments is the main mode of transmission.

According to Union Health Ministry officials, there have been reports of detection of avian influenza virus in cattle and milk in various States of USA.

Post this, a video conference under the chairmanship of Director General of Health Services was conducted on Sunday , to review the current situation. The conference was with the Maharashtra State government officials.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in a recent ‘preliminary report’ said, while there has been no reported human-to-human transmission of A(H5N1) viruses since 2007, “although there may be gaps in investigations”.

Investigations are ongoing to understand the risk to humans from consuming milk contaminated with A(H5N1) virus, WHO said in its report; adding that it “strongly advises consumption of only pasteurised milk”.

Health Ministry in its advisory said, practices such as boiling of milk and proper cooking of meat would help in preventing the virus transmission to human beings.

Seasonal Flu

On the other hand, guidelines categorisation of patients, treatment protocol, and procedures on ventilatory management have been provided to States/UTs for dealing with seasonal flu cases.

“The Union Health Ministry is keeping a close watch on the seasonal influenza situation in various States/UTs through the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) network on real-time basis,” a statement said.

While seasonal influenza is an acute respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses; the first case of influenza A or H1N1 was detected in 2009.

Every year, India witnesses two peaks of seasonal influenza : one from January to March and other in post monsoon season. “As of now there has been no abnormal alarming rise in cases of seasonal flu in any part of the country,” the official said.