Srinagar: While the official count of swine flu deaths so far this season in Kashmir valley was at 12, Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) on Sunday alleged the toll is an underestimate as many flu deaths go unreported.
“The actual number of flu deaths is higher than reported,” DAK President and flu expert Dr Nisar ul Hassan said in a statement issued here on Sunday.
He said many people who die from flu are not tested for flu or seek medical care later in their illness when flu can no longer be detected.
Dr Hassan said sensitive tests only detect flu if performed within a week after the onset of illness. “Some commonly used rapid diagnostic tests to diagnose flu are not sensitive and provide false negative tests,” he said.
The DAK president said many flu deaths are hidden among other diseases. For example, if a person with diabetes dies of flu, he or she will be counted as having died of diabetes.
He said many patients with heart or lung disease die of flu, but their death is wrongly attributed to their underlying condition. “While elderly people have the highest rates for hospitalization and death, they don’t develop typical flu symptoms. In them feeling weak or confused may be the only sign of having the flu,” he informed.
Dr Hassan said when patients lack classic signs, health professionals don’t think of the diagnosis. This means many patients go undiagnosed and untreated.
He said prompt recognition of flu and prompt treatment with anti-flu medication is the key to reduce the chances of serious illness and death. “More education is needed among health care providers about the variability in symptoms of flu in different populations so that during flu season, they think of the illness more frequently, even when a patient doesn’t have classic signs,” he added.
“Swine flu virus in circulation this year is of Michigan strain that has replaced earlier California strain which was circulating since 2009 pandemic. The changed virus has become more virulent causing deaths,” he said.