| An immigration officer wearing a mask waits for Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in New Delhi. (AFP)
Mumbai, April 7: Face masks have come out and doctors are running scared at the Jaslok hospital here as India’s first suspected SARS patient has come in for treatment.
If the US national, named Rebecca, is indeed suffering from the dreaded Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, then Mumbai, and even Agra, is in trouble. The American woman’s companion is believed to have gone to Agra from Delhi “after meeting some friends”.
The panic is understandable because the mystery virus has already killed 100 people and infected over 2,600 worldwide.
Though Rebecca, said to be in her late 30s or early 40s, is believed to have all the SARS symptoms of violent cough, high fever, weakness and cold, Dr R.M. Kathuria, executive health officer, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, refused to confirm.
The state, however, has already asked experts at the National Institute of Virology to rush to Jaslok.
Though doctors insist Rebecca — shifted to Jaslok late this evening from Kasturba hospital — is being treated for a “kind of pneumonia”, the panic over the case more than speaks for the medical staff’s reticence.
The fear is real because the American woman has just come back after extensive travel in all the South-East Asian countries which are now on the SARS high-risk list — China, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Subhash Salunke, director of state health services, assured that “all precautions are being taken and that the patient has already been quarantined”.
“We are only saying that we suspect she may have been infected with SARS,” he said, trying to underplay the enormity of SARS entering a country more ill equipped than China, Hong Kong and Canada to fight the disease.
Doctors said they were conducting a series of tests to ascertain if it was indeed SARS.
A home ministry official, however, did not hesitate to express fears about the patient’s companion who was in Uttar Pradesh. “It is such a huge state. It would be very difficult to locate her,” the official said.
The Uttar Pradesh government has already been alerted about the woman, he said. “We just hope she is (still) in Agra and not suffering from the same symptoms.” A red alert has been sounded at airports and medical teams in Uttar Pradesh have been asked to be extra vigilant.
Doctors at the international airport here started wearing masks today and all passengers coming from foreign destinations were asked to fill in health forms.