India’s reaction to pandemic H1N1 has been consistently weird. Long after other countries realized that swine flu was comparatively mild, Indian media have continued to respond as if it were horrific. My file of sources or journalists using the phrase “dreaded swine flu” or “dreaded H1N1” continues to accumulate examples from India – and virtually nowhere else.
Perhaps in response to this overreaction, Indian officials and infectious disease experts have sometimes gone to the other extreme – for example, trying to reassure the public by insisting falsely that H1N1 cannot make healthy people seriously ill.
Other times Indian officials have gone alone with the public’s exaggerated fears. Last week, for example, the Times of India reported “shock and disbelief” when a 75-year-old man “succumbed to the dreaded disease” – as if elderly flu deaths weren’t (sadly) commonplace. Health department officials apparently joined in the overreaction. According to the newspaper, they collected “the clothes and linen used by the deceased to be burnt and destroyed”; they supervised the victim’s cremation; they “applied disinfectant to the floor and furniture in his house”; and they identified at least 20 contacts who were given prophylactic Tamiflu even though they had no symptoms.
And a mid-March story out of India reported that medical and health authorities had started screening passengers traveling by train between India and Pakistan to check for swine flu, after two cases tested positive in a border district. I know of no other country that still imagines it is in the containment phase of pandemic response.
I tell clients never to use the word “hysterical” to describe other people’s risk response. I will resist the temptation to make an exception for India’s response to swine flu.
Copyright © 2012 by Peter M. Sandman