Disagreeing with the Centre’s decision to install thermal scanners at all international airports, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday said these had very little role once the A (H1N1) influenza virus established itself in the community.

Responding to queries at a press conference here on swine flu, WHO representative in India Salim Habayeb said thermal scanners were useful during the initial stages to help detect people carrying possible symptoms. But once the influenza affected a large number of people, detection at airports — which constitutes a small percentage — would not help. “Nevertheless, detection at the airports after the virus has affected the community helps in providing early treatment to the patients,” Mr. Habayeb said.

There are four thermal scanners at the Delhi international airport and the government last week announced that scanners would be installed at 24 international airports across the country.

Going by the 1918 epidemic experience, Jai P. Narain, head of Communicable Diseases at South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO), said the pandemic was at an early stage and would continue to spread with “speed and ease,” affecting a large number of people. Among the positive cases so far, the condition of the patient deteriorated within a few hours, particularly if he or she had an underlying medical condition. The only good news was that the virus had not changed its genetic or virological character, Dr. Narain said.

Leave it to doctor

Reiterating that there was no need for testing and hospitalisation, Dr. Narain said this should be limited to those who were severely ill and were likely to die. The decision on administering Tamiflu and recommending tests should be left to doctors. He said Tamiflu, if taken within 48 hours of the virus affecting a person, was most effective. However, it had to be used discriminately; otherwise, the consequences could be disastrous.

Hoping that the vaccine for the flu would be ready within the next 3-4 months, Dr. Narain said there were issues of production capacity and accessibility. In any case, it would only protect people from the next spell of outbreak that could happen in six months or a year or some time after that. The WHO has given $2 million to the Serum Institute of India to develop the vaccine and similar grants have been made to some other developing countries too.

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