The H1N1 influenza has emerged as the biggest killer in Maharashtra this year claiming three times the number of lives taken by dengue and malaria put together, and six times if compared individually. Initially termed as swine flu, the virus has also shown a worryingly high mortality rate with almost one in four confirmed cases that resulted in death.
State experts pointed out that mortality in H1N1 cases has been higher when compared with seasonal ailments, mainly malaria and dengue. For instance, around 23% of the patients who contracted the viral infection succumbed to it whereas less than 1% of malaria patients have died during the period. Even dengue's mortality rate stands at 2% despite a clear shift in the seriousness of the infection as well as its manifestation this monsoon.
Pune, Nagpur and Nashik have been the worst affected recording 58, 24 and 25 swine flu deaths, respectively. Mumbai has recorded a single death and around 50 cases so far. The cases remained largely under control during monsoon with less than 15 being officially reported since June. The situation this year was much better for the city with only 10 cases in August compared with 103 during the corresponding period last year.
With no significant changes detected in the behaviour of the virus, experts are baffled as to what could have caused the fatalities. To add to the trepidation is the fact that more deaths have taken place among people with no known medical complications. For instance, out of the 130 deaths, 68 did not have any preexisting ailments.
Dr Abhay Chaudhary, director of Parel's Haffkine Research Institute, said, "The virus is pretty much the same. There may be minor changes as is common with influenza viruses but nothing that can affect the population in a big way." Chaudhary blamed the deaths more on individual patients' immune response to the virus. "The virus per se may not be killing people. It is how their immune systems are responding to it."