A final year medical student of Madras Medical College tested positive for A (H1N1) influenza on Sunday, taking the total number of healthcare workers who have contracted the flu to 14. The infected healthcare workers include doctors, nurses and paramedical staff from MMC, Cancer Institute, Adyar, Sri Ramachandra Hospital, Porur and Government Kasturba Hospital, Triplicane.

The student, who was quarantined at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, attached to MMC, had no travel history and there is no known source of contact as yet, hospital authorities said.

On Saturday, a priest from a temple in Manali in North Chennai was admitted to the hospital. According to hospital dean V. Kanagasabai, three patients are on treatment at the hospital and all of them are responding well to medication.

Director of Communicable Diseases Hospital, B. Mahalakshmi, said that given healthcare workers are constantly exposed to infections in their daily work, their immunity levels would be low. Health department officials maintain that those who have contracted the infection were probably not exposed to the virus during the 2009 epidemic. “This is herd immunity. While 60 to 70 per cent of the community would have developed immunity, the rest would not have been exposed, and so, they would have been infected,” Dr. Mahalakshmi said.

But even vaccines work only if they are given before the person has contracted the infection. In the window period, when a person may have contracted the infection, if the patient's immunity is good, the vaccine will take effect within 21 days. Principal health secretary Girija Vaidyanathan reiterated that there was no fear of a full-blown epidemic as the A (H1N1) flu was similar to the ordinary flu, and must be treated with proper medication at the appropriate time.

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R. SujathaJune 28, 2012