Calcutta, April 9: The first suspected SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) patient landed at the city airport this evening and, after a brief examination, was whisked off to the Beliaghata infectious diseases hospital.
As the passengers emerged from the airport, officials spotted a young man with a “toxic” look wheezing and coughing intermittently as he walked towards the newly-opened health counter at the airport. After filling in the health card, which passengers arriving from Southeast Asia are now required to do, he was taken to an isolated enclosure where doctors examined him. He was found to have high fever. The verdict of the doctors was that his symptoms matched those of SARS patients.
Immediately, health secretary Asim Burman was informed and superintendent of the ID hospital S. Biswas alerted. After putting a mask on him to prevent spread of the infection, the authorities put the patient, a 22-year-old businessman from Gorakhpur, in an ambulance and sent him to the ID hospital.
“We knew something was wrong the moment we found him trying to avoid the health officials at the airport,” said Asit Choudhury, deputy director (health), Calcutta airport. “Later the symptoms matched. But we only suspect that he may have contracted the deadly disease.”
At the ID hospital, a team of doctors led by Subrata Adhikary and A.P. Behra was waiting for him and rushed the patient to the emergency ward. “There is congestion in the chest and we have done an X-ray,” said Behra. “But the confirmatory test will be the Respiratory Multiplex PCR test which will be done at the School of Tropical Medicine tomorrow. Unless this test confirms it, I can only say that he is a suspected SARS patient and nothing more.” Doctors said that blood samples from the patient will be sent there tomorrow. It will take 72 hours before the results can be confirmed.
At the ID hospital, the patient, who had spent nine days in Bangkok, seemed in a daze. “Doctors, there is nothing much wrong with me. Why are you all in such a panic,” the patient pleaded with the doctors. Doctors said his pulse was normal.
There was a crowd at the door of the emergency ward with people eager to catch a glimpse of the patient without a care about catching the infection themselves. Most concurred that the patient looked almost “hale and hearty”, but a bit pale.
Later in the night, the patient will be shifted to another wing, where patients suffering from chicken pox and diptheria are kept. They will now be shifted to another floor of the hospital.
School of Tropical Medicine director Joyshree Mitra, who had convened an emergency meeting last week to chalk out the government’s plan of action to control SARS, said utmost care will be taken at the ID hospital to keep the virus from spreading to other areas.