Swine flu cases treble in Nepal

Kathmandu, Dec 29 - Nepal Tuesday sounded its first alarm for the pandemic swine flu with the health ministry publicly disclosing that the number of reported cases had jumped to 150 from the earlier 48.

However, the government media Tuesday quoted a senior official of the Avian Influenza Control Project under the ministry of health and population as saying that the actual number could be still higher since outbreaks in remote villages would not be reported immediately.

The ministry made the disclosure following the death of two patients, both women, this month, the first reported swine flu deaths in Nepal six months after the H1N1 influenza was reported in Nepal.

Capital city Kathmandu has been the hardest hit by the virus, accounting for 35 of the 150 reported cases.

Two other popular tourist destinations have reported outbreaks with Kaski, the district where Pokhara city is located, accounting for 32 cases, and Chitwan on the Indian border, famed for its wildlife, reporting 23 cases.

Six more districts have confirmed the occurrence of swine flu, including Lalitpur in Kathmandu valley, another popular tourist destination, and three districts on the India-Nepal border: Ilam, Sunsari and Morang.

There is a possibility of swine flu spreading among communities, like it did in Parvat in western Nepal where 11 people tested positive in one go.

Despite the leap in the number of reported cases, Nepal is badly equipped to deal with the disease.

Currently, there is just one laboratory in Kathmandu where confirmatory tests can be carried out.

Most of the patients are male - 106 - with around 60 percent cases occurring in people aged 15-45 years.

However, the ministry said that over 99 percent of the cases were mild in nature with the patients responding soon to treatment.

The two dead are a 31-year-old woman from Chitwan who died Dec 5 after remaining at the intensive care unit of the Janamaitri Hospital in Kathmandu for 25 days, and a 29-year-old woman from Bhaktapur district, who succumbed to the influenza Dec 24 at Bir Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal's oldest hospital.

The names of both victims have been withheld due to requests by their families.

The first cases of swine flu were reported in June when three members of a Nepali family arriving from the US tested positive for the disease at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

Subsequently, though mass outbreaks were reported in the western districts of Parbat and Baglung last month, no deaths were reported.

However, with swine flu deaths crossing 880 in neighbouring India, Nepal that daily sees hundreds of migrant workers heading for the southern country in search of work or returning from there, has been living with the fear of mass infections just as HIV and AIDS spread to the landlocked republic from India in the past.

There have also been cases of border villages forcing sick people out of their homes and ostracising the family due to unfounded fears that they had contracted swine flu during their sojourn in India.

The World Health Organisation says over 11,500 people have died due to the H1N1 flu worldwide. (IANS)