H1N1 toll in India rises, hits Bollywood, badminton

MUMBAI Tue Aug 11, 2009 1:29pm IST

A girl wears a mask prior to being tested H1N1 influenza at a special ward in Kasturba Hospital, in Mumbai August 5, 2009. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

A girl wears a mask prior to being tested H1N1 influenza at a special ward in Kasturba Hospital, in Mumbai August 5, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Schools, malls and cinema halls in some cities in western India have shut and Bollywood shoots cancelled as the toll from the H1N1 pandemic rose to eight.

More than 850 have so far tested positive for the virus, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, with about 340 still undergoing treatment and the rest discharged from hospitals.

"We need to work a little harder as the rate at which cases are being reported has gone up," he said late on Monday.

India was importing more supplies of flu drug Tamiflu and testing kits, asking private hospitals to help state-run hospitals cope with a surge in people rushing to get tested.

The flu drug is still supplied only by the state and will not be made available in pharmacies, Azad said. Three Indian drug firms were working on a vaccine, although it could take 5-7 months to make one available, he said.

In southern Hyderabad city, where the world badminton championships are being held, a Malaysian coach was quarantined on Tuesday with symptoms of the flu, a government coordinator said.

In Maharashtra, which has six of the eight fatalities so far, schools, malls and cinema halls in Pune have shut and companies are restricting travel to and from the industrial hub, about 180 km from Mumbai.

A team from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases was in the state to check the formation of clusters, the Indian Express paper said, citing a state health official.

H1N1 swine flu is unstoppable, according to the World Health Organisation, which has given up on trying to keep a precise count of cases.

Experts consider the pandemic to be moderate at this point, meaning it can kill people and put many in hospital, sometimes with severe illness. But most people get a mild illness and get better with little or no treatment.

That hasn't stopped wall-to-wall coverage in the local media.

In Mumbai, commuters on crowded local trains wore face masks or handkerchiefs, and several pharmacies were selling swine flu masks and hand sanitisers at several times the regular price.

Several schools have closed for a week, although Azad said simply closing schools would not help contain the virus if children chose instead to go to the mall or to parties.

"Mere closing of schools is not going to solve the problem. But we've left it to the states to decide," he said.

The flu has also disrupted the business of Bollywood, with the shoot for film 'Kurbaan' ("sacrifice") in Pune cancelled.

"There is no point taking a risk, especially because it is spreading so fast. It's serious, and there's no point taking such a huge crew," Saif Ali Khan, who stars in the film, told Reuters.

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