Saturday, May 02, 2009

Indian summer and Swine Flu

A searing hot day, with mercury climbing to 43.5 degree Celsius, might be far from a perfect day. But it might prove to be a shield

against the latest health scare to hit the world. The H1N1 swine flu virus finds it difficult to survive high temperatures.

The heat wave presently gripping northern India and the rising temperatures in other parts of the country, may be a boon against swine flu infection.

Communicable disease experts say rising temperatures make it very difficult, especially for influenza viruses, to survive.

Speaking to TOI, Dr Khanchit Limpakarnjanarat, regional advisor for communicable diseases at the World Health Organization's regional office for South-East Asia, said, "When we cough, the virus may fall on the floor. In such high temperatures, the virus can't survive in the open and perishes. A slightly cold weather is most suitable for the virus to survive in the environment and live longer."

"However, if the virus already exists inside humans, it can continue to transmit from human to human through cough and sneeze, irrespective of the weather," Dr Limpakarnjanarat added.

According to Dr Jai P Narain, director of communicable diseases at WHO SEARO, "The H1N1 swine flu virus, like any other influenza virus, is most likely to die as temperatures soar. However, very little is known about the H1N1 swine flu strain, which is a mix of avian, human and swine flu genes. Since it is a new virus, we can just hope that it is susceptible to heat."

Experts from India's National Institute of Communicable Diseases also said that "influenza viruses peak during winter and cooler climates and disappear during summer".

"The virus that exists in the droplets of your nose or moth get killed when it is released in the environment. This is our experience with seasonal flu."

Heat wave scorching North India

New Delhi: Searing heat continued to scorch the plains of north India as temperatures remained above 40 degrees Celsius with no relief offered by the met office from the heat wave conditions.
In Delhi, the maximum temperature Friday was 44 degrees Celsius, a good five degrees above normal. Delhhiites had a tough time beating the heat with many trying their best to stay indoors or taking ample precautions if they had to venture out.

Radhika Sharma, a second year Delhi University Student who had an exam Friday said she couldn't stop sipping water every few minutes while writing her exam.

"It was so irritating. Every few minutes my throat would go absolutely dry and I had to keep sipping water. It just became next to impossible to concentrate," Sharma told IANS.

For rickshaw puller Raju Misra, all efforts to keep the heat at bay proved futile.

"I kept soaking my towel in water and wrapped it around myself to get some relief from the extreme heat. But all this brings only temporary relief," Misra, with a cloth masking half his face, said.

With mercury levels soaring, the union territory of Chandigarh and its neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana also sizzled in the heat.

The town of Hisar in Haryana was the hottest Friday at 45 degrees, which was five degrees above normal.

According to Met officials, the mercury will stay above 40 degrees Celsius in this region, clearly three to seven degrees above normal for this time of year.

Chandigarh recorded 42 degrees Celsius, six degrees above normal, Thursday.

Furthermore, with temperatures soaring over 43 degrees Celsius for the third consecutive day, the summer heat became increasingly intolerable in most parts of Uttar Pradesh.

"If such extreme heat conditions persist, we may consider early closure of schools for the summer vacations," Lucknow district magistrate Chandra Bhanu told IANS.

"We are also going to put up drinking water facilities along the roads in different parts of the state capital," he added.

In the desert state of Rajasthan, Pilani was the hottest city with day temperatures touching 47.1 degree Celsius Thursday. The state capital Jaipur was also sizzling at 44 degrees which was six degrees above normal.

"In view of the scorching heat I have changed my timings. I do some of my work before 11 a.m. and start again after 6 p.m.," said Ravi Singh, a direct marketing executive.

Some of the schools have also changed their timings from seven to noon while others are planning to declare early vacations because of the heat wave.

The weather officials said the weather condition over the entire northern region is dry and, therefore, the heat wave is likely to continue.