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Mystery killer alert at airports

Mumbai, March 31: Airports in Mumbai have sounded a high alert on the mysterious pneumonia-like disease that has killed more than 60 worldwide and stepped up screening of passengers arriving from international destinations.

The Maharashtra government has deputed health officials at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and directed them to put in place a stringent screening method to detect passengers suffering from the disease, called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS.

No cure has yet been found for the disease, whose symptoms are similar to that of viral fever, and the only way to control it is through quarantine.

According to the World Health Organisation, the mysterious virus has till date infected nearly 1,700 people in 13 countries. Most of the cases were reported from Asia. China is the worst affected, followed by Hong Kong.

State health director Dr Subhash Salunke said that on March 6, Cathay Pacific Airlines, on its flight CX 838 from Honk Kong to Hanoi (Vietnam), had carried a passenger afflicted with SARS. On board were six passengers from Mumbai.

While three were traced and subjected to tests, which turned out negative, the government has not been able to locate the others. Airline authorities have been asked for information on these passengers. However, a committee headed by Salunke today said there is as yet no incidence of SARS here.

M.R. Thambare, health officer at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, said screening of passengers has not thrown up any worrying news, but added that officials have been instructed to immediately put in quarantine anyone they spot having SARS. Dr Sumanta Pai, an epidemiologist with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, said health officials at the airport have been asked to keep in touch with airhostesses on board.

and direct them to send out an immediate alert if they come across any such case.

Hong Kong today reported two more deaths, taking the toll to 15. Panic-stricken residents have been told to wear masks as the disease triggered fears that it was being spread through air or water.

The virus, which is believed to have originated from China’s Guangdong province last November, has claimed Carlo Urbani, the doctor who first diagnosed the disease in an American businessman in Hanoi.

Thailand, Singapore, the US and most European countries have also stepped up the screening process of travellers landing at their airports.

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