The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Virus suspect hale & hearty

Calcutta, April 10: The “toxic”-looking youth, who was whisked away to Beliaghata’s Infectious Diseases Hospital last evening after he emerged from a Bangkok flight with all apparent SARS symptoms, has been fine all day.

He has had no fever or a cough and cold, but will have to spend the next 72 hours in a room at the hospital which till yesterday had people stricken with diphtheria and chicken pox.

Doctors say the 22-year-old businessman from Gorakhpur, who landed at Calcutta airport with fever, breathing trouble and a cough, has had a “remarkable” recovery. Such has been the improvement that even before the blood test reports are out, director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee has ruled out that he has contracted the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that has claimed more than 100 lives worldwide.

“I visited him at the hospital today,” Chatterjee told reporters at Writers’ Buildings. “I am quite certain that he is not suffering from SARS. I saw the X-ray plates and some of the other reports and there is no trace of any ailment. In fact, after I saw the X-ray I did not even use any mask while talking to him.”

Acting superintendent of the hospital Swapan Biswas concurred. “The patient does not appear to have any lung infection,” Biswas said. “He is not running a fever and does not seem to be in any kind of respiratory distress.”

But Biswas added that “a final verdict can only be given after the blood test reports come in after 72 hours” — which means the patient has to remain in the hospital till then.

Samples of the patient’s blood, urine and stool have been sent to the School of Tropical Medicine and the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in the city and the Indian Council for Medical Research in Delhi and Pune.

Hospital authorities are not taking any chances. With gum boots, biking goggles that shut out the air from all sides around the eyes and surgical gloves, they are guarded against any virus that might be carried by SARS-infected passengers arriving from Southeast Asia.

Even stocks of Ribavirin, the drug recommended by the World Health Organisation for treating SARS patients, have arrived at the hospital.

But the man at the centre of all the attention is bored and frustrated. “He wanted something to do or something to read so we gave him books, magazines and newspapers,” Biswas said.

The youth’s parents, who had been informed by the state government, arrived from Gorakhpur later in the day with home-cooked food. “We were overwhelmed to see the joy on the youth’s face on seeing his parents,” Biswas said. “It was a touching moment.”

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