The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Doctors calm virus spread jitters

Mumbai, April 22: Even as more reports of suspected SARS cases come in from western India, the medical fraternity here is stressing that there is no reason to panic.

“Our hospital is ready to take care of suspected cases,” says Dr Prabhu Desai, who is heading the team that has been put in place at Leelavati Hospital here to handle the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome cases.

He says the fear of an impending epidemic is highly exaggerated.

“Just the presence of coronavirus doesn’t mean that a patient is suffering from SARS. Until and unless a patient dies, there is no conclusive proof that he was suffering from the disease,” says Desai, adding that it is only a particular mutant of the coronavirus that leads to the disease.

He stressed the fact that mortality rate in SARS cases is very low — about 4 per cent. “We yet have a lot to learn about the disease, but it seems not everyone is equally susceptible to the disease,” he said.

There are indications that Indians may be less vulnerable to the disease, Desai claimed. “The population suffers a lot from viral infections. That may be a blessing in disguise as that may make them more immune to the spread of this virus.”

The climate of a country may also play a special role. “It is not clear if the virus has spread in cooler temperature zones, but the heat in our country may make the virus less effective.”

The hospital staff has been adequately trained to deal with suspected cases. Such cases are being admitted only in the outdoor departments and if the doctors feel there is reason to worry, the patients are being sent to a special ward in Kasturba Hospital in the city, where they are being isolated and given proper respiratory treatment.

There has been a government circular stating that all suspected cases be sent to Kasturba Hospital. Another ward has been set up at JJ Hospital.

At Breach Candy and Jaslok hospitals, two other leading hospitals in the city, the administrative staff is confident that the mechanism is in place in their outdoor departments to deal with SARS. The hospitals are also equipped with enough masks in case of an outbreak.

AIDS activist I.S. Gilada, who is putting together an exhibition on SARS to spread awareness on the disease, is also of the opinion that there is too much worry about the disease following coverage by the media.

“There is too much talk on whether our hospitals can be effective in case of an epidemic. First, there is no reason to assume that there will be an epidemic. Second, treatment of SARS doesn’t need too much of special care,” he says.

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