The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Virus suspect allowed to fly

Mumbai, April 27: After Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-infected Julie D’Silva was allowed to get married in a crowded Pune church, a doctor at Mumbai’s Kasturba Hospital discharged a SARS patient before all his test results came in.

Bhaskar Murthy, a Hong Kong resident of Indian descent, flew to New Delhi from Mumbai at 9 am yesterday. Hours later, a National Institute of Virology report declared him SARS-positive.

Murthy had been admitted to Kasturba Hospital on April 22 after he complained of chest pain and fever. He was soon shifted to the hospital’s SARS isolation ward.

His throat and tongue swab was sent to the Pune institute on April 24 after symptoms of the virus were detected. Though the first series of tests did not indicate an infection, the second — the more definitive one — was to follow two days later.

“Dr Ravi Kadam, who was treating Murthy at Kasturba, discharged him after his chest X-ray was found to be normal and his blood sample tested negative. But this was despite strict instructions from me to keep Murthy under surveillance till the complete set of reports were in and I had inspected them,” state public health director Subhash Salunke said.

Murthy, who is now under observation at Delhi’s Infectious Diseases Hospital, Kingsway Camp, was spotted at the airport after he arrived in a plane full of unsuspecting passengers.

“This is the kind of carelessness, so emblematic of our country, that could make tackling a contagious disease all the more difficult in the event of a full-scale breakout,” a doctor at the hospital said.

Kadam, the deputy medical superintendent of Kasturba Hospital, however, could not be located for comments. Salunke added that he had urged higher authorities to take action against the doctor.

Health minister Digvijay Khanvilkar, who had been aghast at Julie being allowed to wed despite being infected, said he was looking into the matter.

The wedding had led to a frantic search for the people who had come in contact with the D’Silvas. Nearly 50 people had to be quaratined.

It was the same hurried damage-control bid that got the state health officials cracking after Murthy was discharged.

Health officials contacted the Union health ministry soon after learning that Murthy had flown to Delhi.

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