India swine flu outbreak 'kills 75'

An Indian medical staff member treats a swine flu patient at an isolation ward of the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad on January 23, 2015. Hundreds of cases have been reported from all over India

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An outbreak of swine flu in India has killed at least 75 people in just over six weeks, officials say.

Health officials said most of the deaths have been reported from the southern state of Telangana and Rajasthan state in the north.

Experts investigating the cause of the outbreak say low winter temperatures are to blame.

The H1N1 virus, which causes swine flu, first appeared in Mexico in 2009 and rapidly spread around the world.

The virus killed 981 Indians in 2009, 1,763 in 2010, 75 in 2011, 405 in 2012 and 692 in 2013.

It is thought the virus has killed 200,000 people around the world.

Indian officials say swine flu has killed 50 people in Telangana and Rajasthan. Fifteen deaths have been reported from Gujarat. The capital, Delhi, has reported five deaths so far, while neighbouring Haryana reported seven deaths.

Hospitals in affected states have set up isolation wards to treat patients.

Rajendra Rathore, health minister of Rajasthan, where 25 people have died and nearly 100 cases had been recorded, said he was "worried" about the sudden spike in winter.

Health official KC Meena told reporters that experts were investigating whether the virus had undergone a "minor mutation" in the state, although the patients were responding well to medicines.

'Severe winter'

In Telangana, experts said there was no reason to panic, despite 25 people dying since December.

"The number of cases this year is slightly more than the last. One of the reasons could be that the traditionally tropical state has experienced its coldest winter in two decades with temperatures dipping to single digits," L Narendranath, chief of the state-run Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences told the BBC.

An Indian woman and a child cover themselves with protective masks after the news of the outbreak of swine flu virus as they walk inside the premises of Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad, India, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. People are using protective masks to ward off the flu in Telangana

Samples tested at the hospital showed that a third of the "highly suspicious" cases had been found positive for swine flu.

"This year's cases appear to be sporadic and had not affected families and neighbours and communities around them. This could mean that the virus was dormant in the patient, and the relatively cold weather made it virulent," Mr Narendranath said.

Doctors said there was enough stocks of flu medicine available with the government.

Dr MS Chadha, deputy director of India's National Institute of Virology, told the BBC that the spike in cases across India was "not really unusual" as it appeared to be seasonal in nature.

"The virus does not go away easily. So we need to be careful," she said.

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What is swine flu?
  • Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by a strain of the influenza type A virus known as H1N1.
  • The disease originated in pigs, but is now a wholly human disease and is spread by coughing and sneezing.
  • Symptoms of swine flu in humans appear to be similar to those produced by standard, seasonal flu - fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and chills. Some people with the virus also experience nausea and diarrhoea.
  • Vulnerable groups include pregnant women, children under five, the over-65s and those with serious conditions such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes or immunosuppressive illnesses.
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