Swine flu has claimed 16 lives in Himachal Pradesh this year, said Health and Family Welfare minister Vipin Singh Parmar in a suo motu statement in the state Assembly on Tuesday.

Parmar informed the House that since January 1, 2019, as many as 321 cases were tested and 105 people were found positive for the seasonal flu (33 in Shimla, 32 in Kangra, 11 in Bilaspur, eight in Mandi, six in Solan, five each in Hamirpur and Chamba, two in Una, and one each in Kullu and Sirmaur districts).

He said the main cause of deaths in most cases has been pre-existing morbidity, such as diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease etc, which gets aggravated due to the influenza virus. He said the most vulnerable groups are very young children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing diseases etc, where immunity is very low.

Parmar said the first case during the current season was detected on January 8. The health department had issued an advisory on January 9 and 23. He said the preparedness has been upscaled to ensure availability of necessary medicines, vaccines, and personal protective equipment.

He said the situation is reviewed and the information shared with the Government of India on a daily basis. The minister said the neighbouring states of Punjab (cases 164, deaths 26), Haryana (cases 363, deaths two), Uttarakhand (cases 17, death 1), Chandigarh (cases 10, death 0) are also affected by the virus.

Parmar said large scale Information Education and Communication (IEC) has been launched at all levels to make people aware of the signs and symptoms of Swine flu and the do’s and don’ts.

He said the virus circulates more during the winter season and its symptoms may last for one or two weeks. He said all the major hospitals in the state have created isolation wards for treatment of the people affected with Swine flu with requisite facilities.

He said public health facilities in Himachal are fully equipped to deal with Swine flu cases, ample stocks of anti-viral medicines are available with health facilities, and testing facilities for the seasonal flu are available with Indira Gandhi Medical College, Shimla, Tanda Medical College, and Central Research Institute, Kasauli.

The minister asked the people not to panic and just take precautionary measures.

He said it is advised to cover the mouth when coughing and sneezing, wash hands properly with soap and water especially after coughing and sneezing, stay at home and take rest. He said it is also advised to stay at least three feet away from the people suffering from flu.

The minister said Himachal had reported 123, 14, 77 and seven cases during last four years (2015-18) and the number of deaths during the period was 27, 5, 15 and two, respectively.