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Third case of SARS confirmed

The third SARS positive case was reported in the city after blood samples of Jamil Ahmed, sent to Pune’s National Institute of Virology, tested positive for SARS antibodies on Saturday. However, Ahmed’s condition has improved with no signs of the WHO-enlisted symptoms of SARS, said officials.

Ahmed, a resident of Watgunge, went to Hong Kong, where he got infected with the deadly pneumonia virus, health department officials said on Saturday.

With all five isolated patients responding well to treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital at Beleghata and no new SARS suspects reported in the past 36 hours, the government on Saturday decided to release Asitabha Purakayastha, Radheyshyam Gupta and three other patients as soon as possible.

Director of medical education C.R. Maity, who is monitoring the situation, said on Saturday that “tentative dates for the release of the patients have been fixed” since none of the five patients (barring Ahmed who has lung congestion) admitted at the ID Hospital has shown any symptoms of SARS as defined by WHO.

“Some patients have already been subjected to the WHO guideline of quarantine for a 10 day-period after getting infected, so there is no reason for keeping them admitted for a longer period,” Maity added.

The decision is likely to be taken on Monday when the expert committee meets again at Writers’ Buildings. It is learnt that the government is waiting for reports from Pune’s National Institute of Virology and the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (Niced).

However, the state government’s decision to send the latest blood sample (of Sisir Sanketi) to Niced instead of Pune for a quicker report seems to have backfired after Niced announced that it would send its report to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which in turn would inform the Central health directorate about the status of the patient. “It does not matter when we get the results as none of the patients have SARS symptoms. Moreover, WHO guidelines clearly state that the SARS virus does not survive in the hot and humid conditions prevailing now,” the DME added.

Despite best efforts by the authorities, the SARS scare refuses to retreat. With few hospital staffers going near them, Purakayastha, who is staying in a makeshift cabin in the third-floor operation theatre of the isolation block, and the others — Ahmed, Sanketi, Gupta and Hazari Prasad — were left to chat and walk in the wards, which have been recently vacated to accommodate SARS patients.

A visit to the hospital on Friday afternoon revealed how nursing staff, doctors and relatives of patients have been avoiding the isolation block.

The nurses take a circuitous route to reach the matron’s office, instead of the shorter one through the isolation block building. On Saturday afternoon, two doctors were heard persuading some nurses that there was very little to fear from the hospital’s “unwanted patients”. “We used to sleep near the passageway at night. Not any more. The disease is more dangerous than AIDS,” said Baburam, a staffer.

The authorities are looking into allegations that ward boys refused to supply blankets when two patients asked for them early on Friday. After a long deliberation, one of them threw blankets from a distance only after covering himself, a doctor said.

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