‘Postpone exams, no need to shut down schools’: Doctors on rise in flu cases in TN

It is very common to see a rise in respiratory tract infections among school children between July and mid-November, says Dr Karamath at Kallakurichi Government Medical College Hospital.
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There has been a notable spike in the number of child patients hospitalised with flu over the past few weeks in Tamil Nadu, giving parents across the state cause for concern. Worried about the rate at which the fever seems to be spreading among schoolchildren, many have grown reluctant to send their kids to school. Now, with the Puducherry government declaring a week’s holiday in connection with the rise in fever cases by up to 50%, parents and the Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu are expecting the government to amp up preventive measures.

Priya, a resident of Aminjikarai in Chennai, told TNM that her seven-year-old son caught the fever two weeks ago, and skipped school for a week. “My son studies in Class 2 at a private school in Nedungundram. Currently, around four to five of his classmates are not going to school now because of this fever. Teachers now monitor the temperature of students before they enter the class. If any kid has a temperature higher than normal, they would call their parents within an hour to take them back home,” said Priya, a mother of two. The government should intervene in this matter and take all necessary precautions to prevent further spread, she added.

Speaking to TNM, another Chennai resident said his son has been ill for almost two weeks now. “His temperature keeps fluctuating and he has a cough and cold. His classmates also had this Infection before. The school management has asked us to keep our son home until the fever subsides, as there are chances of other kids getting infected,” he said. 

“Many parents, especially those with children in higher grades, are also scared that the situation might adversely affect their results in the ongoing quarterly exams,” pointed out Dr Arasar Seeralar, Joint Dean and Head of the Paediatric Department at the ACS Medical College and Hospital. Schools should not harass students and their parents by asking them to bring medical certificates and threatening to fail students who do not appear for the exams, he said.

Stating that there was no need to shut down schools due to the flu, the doctor said the parents should simply not send their kids to school if they have been exposed to the infection. “Instead of closing down schools, the government can postpone the quarterly exams until there is a drop in flu cases. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Health should issue proper guidelines educating the parents and schools about how to deal with the infections,” he said.

According to Dr Karamath, Head of the Paediatric Department in Kallakurichi Government Medical College Hospital, it is very common to see a rise in respiratory tract infections (RTI) among school children between July and mid-November. “It is not the H1N1 (swine flu) infections alone that are causing this spike. Many of these cases are general viral infections. From mid-November, it is common to see dengue infections as well,” he said. However, the doctor agreed that the spike in fever cases this year has been higher when compared to the last two years. “Children were not exposed to these infections due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Now that schools have started to function, they are once again being exposed to more infections. That has caused this surge,” he explained.

This is not a pandemic-like situation for us to close down schools and impose a lockdown, Dr Karamath said. “These infections will happen every year during this period. When children are exposed to the outside environment, there are chances that they will get infected. This also means they will develop more antibodies,” he pointed out. 

Dr Karamath further urged the public to continue the practice of hand sanitisation if they want to stay away from the infections. “Besides, diseases become more manageable if there are appropriate public health measures,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr C Vijayabaskar, former Minister for Health and Family Welfare, said it was very sad to see that the government was not officially announcing the spike in swine flu cases among schoolchildren in many districts. In a press meeting held on September 18, Sunday, he urged the government to set up an expert committee to evaluate the situation, so that any further spread can be curtailed. He also asked the government to ensure additional temporary fever wards in the paediatric department of all government medical colleges and hospitals to meet the rising number of fever cases. 

In a statement, former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, popularly known as OPS, said it was the government’s duty to maintain public health, further urging the government to declare holidays for a brief period and postpone the examinations until cases reduce. OPS also asked the government to create awareness among the public about the disease, and to ensure that all people have access to medical aid.

On Monday, Pattali Makkal Katchi Founder Dr S Ramadoss also took to Twitter to urge the government to announce holidays for students up to Class 8, like the Puducherry government. He also urged the government to set up medical camps for kids. 

Minister for Health and Family Welfare Department Ma. Subramanian, meanwhile, refuted the Opposition’s demand to shut down schools. “There is no need to declare holidays in connection with the influenza cases. The total number of cases reported in the state since January this year is about 1,044, including elder, adult, and paediatric patients. It is the same as what we witnessed last year during this season. The public does not have to panic,” he said in the press meet on Sunday.

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