The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Screen at airports to shut out killer

New Delhi, April 1: India has so far escaped the killer pneumonia virus stalking 15 countries across the world, but is taking no chances.

The health ministry has set in motion a “precautionary plan” for screening passengers arriving from the 15 affected countries. They will have to fill a questionnaire on the flight before landing in India.

The pneumonia — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — is characterised by high fever, dry cough and breathlessness. Chest X-rays indicate pneumonia. The other symptoms might include headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite and diarrhoea. The disease appears to be less infectious than influenza. The incubation period is short, estimated to range between 2 and 7 days, with 3-5 days being more common.

The Centre has directed that passengers from the affected countries should be screened at airports. In case anyone is found infected, they will be isolated and treated at a hospital. The home ministry has sent health and travel advisories to Indian embassies in the countries concerned.

The disease first struck root in south China and from there travelled to the other countries — the worst affected being Hong Kong. Several cases have been reported in the US and Australia.

Union health minister Sushma Swaraj held a meeting with officials and World Health Organisation (WHO) experts last evening to put the precaution plan in place.

Dr Shiv Lal of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases today said a core group of experts has been set up to keep strict vigil on the infection. The group includes experts from AIIMS, Ram Manohar Lohia hospital and Safdarjung hospital.

The WHO is expected to supply 20-25 diagnostic kits for identifying the virus. The kits are, however, still not ready for use.

“So far, what we can make out is that family members of those infected and health workers are most at risk from the infection,” said a WHO official. Till date, most cases have been reported among hospital workers treating the pneumonia patients. “Bodily secretions also seem to be an important carrier of the infection,” the WHO said.

“But we are not able to determine the amount of infective agent needed to cause an infection.”

The treatment requires patients to be segregated in an “isolation” unit. Respiratory barriers are recommended for health workers. Health care workers and visitors are required to wear filter masks, goggles, aprons, head covers and gloves.

Though some medicines have been tried, no drug has been recommended for treating the disease. Antibiotics do not appear to be effective. : A significant number of cases in Vietnam, as a result of good supportive care, have improved.

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