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Laxity abroad bringing in flu: Doctors

New Delhi, June 8: Authorities in foreign airports have allowed passengers with flu symptoms to board India-bound flights and bring the virus into the country, state doctors in Hyderabad have told a central team.

At least two men who had arrived in Hyderabad on different flights had symptoms that should have sparked suspicion about the new H1N1 influenza before they had boarded their flights, doctors who treated them in Hyderabad said.

Hyderabad has had seven cases of the H1N1 flu — three men who had flown into the city over the past three weeks, the brother of one passenger, and three co-passengers who had shared air cabin space with one of the infected men.

“A 20-year-old man who left Toronto had fever before he boarded the flight and all through the flight,” said Subhakar Kandi, state co-ordinator for H1N1 nodal centre at the Chest Hospital, Hyderabad. “He even approached the health desk while he was in transit in London, but he was only given a (fever-relieving) paracetomol,” Kandi told The Telegraph over the phone.

The laxity in exit screening at foreign airports not only brings fresh cases of H1N1 into India, it also places other passengers on the aircraft at risk of picking up the infection, Kandi said.

Health officials in New Delhi said the issue of exit screening at foreign airports came up during a review meeting conducted by health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad this morning. “This is a major concern. We’ve taken this up with other governments earlier through our external affairs ministry, but we may need to iterate this,” a senior medical officer said.

The second case of local transmission has occurred in New Delhi with the 60-year-old mother of a 35-year-old infected man confirmed as positive for H1N1 today. The man had fallen sick after arriving from the US last week.

All patients in India have so far displayed only mild symptoms.

Amid signals that the virus is spreading locally, health authorities today decided to add 16 diagnostic centres where nose and throat swab samples of patients could be tested for the H1N1 virus.

Now all samples are tested only in government laboratories in New Delhi and Pune.

Under the new plan, laboratories will be established within the next six to eight weeks in Calcutta, Dibrugarh, Bangalore, Mumbai, Lucknow and other sites.

“Most of these sites already have equipment as part of pandemic preparedness. We have to procure chemicals and provide some additional training to the staff,” an official at Delhi’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases said.

The health ministry has also decided to retrain rapid response teams in several states in detecting clusters of influenza cases, collecting samples and treating patients.

The government has already procured 10 million doses of the anti-viral drug oseltamivir and distributed it among the states.

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