“Did he die of swine flu?” demanded a scrawny man wearing a blue shirt and green surgical mask. He was one of a throng of news reporters packing the lobby of a private hospital in the heart of Bangalore, my city.
It was early August 2009, and India had just recorded its first casualty from the novel H1N1 influenza virus. This latest variant of influenza–a chimera of swine, avian and human flu genes–was raising grave concerns among the medical community worldwide. To try to contain a pandemic, countries were ordering stockpiles of antiviral drugs and initiating vaccine production on a wartime footing.
In Bangalore, as elsewhere, you could pick up any newspaper or watch any news channel and see headlines screaming “Swine Flu!” Men, women and children wore masks of all sizes, shapes and hues. Paranoia was at its peak: An innocuous sneeze could make people run helter-skelter for cover.
A few H1N1 cases had been confirmed in Bangalore, but fortunately none had been fatal. The local media, on the alert 24-7, were hounding any doctor associated with the diagnosis or treatment …