Monday, October 11, 2010

What’s bigger than Swine flu? The Panic

Even as the media has tracked each successive death, as masks have broken out like rashes in cities, and as people have started avoiding enclosed spaces, medical observers suggest the hype may be outrunning the ailment.

In Mumbai, following Pune’s lead, schools and colleges were ordered closed for a week, and movie theatres for three days; promptly, the share prices of PVR Ltd and Adlabs Films Ltd fell 6.4% and 0.2%, respectively. The Union government has bought an additional 30 million doses of Tamiflu, the antiviral drug; its tightly controlled earlier stock of 10 million doses has nearly been expended.
“They’ve had more than 400 deaths in the US, but do you see this kind of thing? No, they’re going about it practically, methodically,” says V. Ramasubramanian, a senior consultant in infectious diseases at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai. “We have to face the fact that it may last another four months or another four years. We have to face the fact that it may kill—but it will kill less than 0.5% of the infected population.”

The panic has already forced changes in both personal lifestyles and corporate agendas. Circulating text messages, meanwhile, recommend homeopathic drugs called Gelsemium 200 and Influenzinum 200, or drops of “Nilgiri Oil” applied to handkerchiefs and face masks. “The homeopathic remedies can boost the immune system and be preventive,” says J.V. Raman, a homeopathy practitioner in New Delhi. “But if the actual ailment does arise, these would be cures, too.” Raman admits that he has not seen the drugs at work for swine flu, simply because “I haven’t come across any cases of swine flu”.

In Bangalore, technology firms have promoted one low-tech, but effective measure among their employees: gallons of hand sanitizer. Wipro Ltd has advised against unnecessary travel; Tata Consultancy Services Ltd’s employees in high-risk locations such as Mexico City have been asked to work from home; Infosys Technologies Ltd has urged workers not to come to work if they show symptoms. 

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