Swine flu death triggers panic in western India

PUNE, India, Aug 6, 2009 (AFP) - Panic-stricken Indians queued outside hospitals Thursday in the western city of Pune as residents rushed to be tested after the country registered its first swine flu death earlier in the week.

More than 1,000 people gathered outside the two government hospitals designated to look after swine flu cases in the city, with chemist shops reporting a shortage of face masks.

Many residents complained there were not enough laboratories and staff to test suspected cases at the two hospitals. The government of Maharashtra has said only state-run hospitals are allowed to test H1N1 patients.

The state government invoked the Epidemic Act in two districts after 14-year-old Rida Shaikh died from the illness Monday in Pune.

The act allows authorities to forcibly put swine flu patients under quarantine in government hospitals.

Anxious residents with flu symptoms have swarmed health centres.

One hospital had only 12 doctors to treat the 1,000 people who crowded outside. Scuffles broke out as patience wore thin.

"I have been standing outside the hospital since four in the morning. No doctors have called me in for the tests," one man told India's NDTV news channel.

India has stepped up airport screening and set up quarantine centres to treat confirmed cases.

Pune has seen a cluster of cases in recent weeks. About 90 children were affected by what was described as an "influenza-like illness" which was reported in the first week of July and several tested positive for H1N1.

A number of the students had earlier visited the United States, where swine flu emerged earlier this year along with Mexico, while others had been in the Netherlands.

The country of nearly 1.2 billion people has been relatively unscathed so far by swine flu.

The Indian government said 2,617 people had been tested so far out of whom 596 had tested positive for H1N1. Of the 596, 482 have since been discharged.

Source: AFP

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