The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Suspect twist in virus clean chit

The city may have heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday, after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announcement that India is “free of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)”. But the SARS scare refused to retreat on Friday, as news of yet another suspected case being admitted at the Beleghata Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital did the rounds.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said on Friday that 42-year-old Sisir Sanketi had been brought to Beleghata from the airport on Thursday night, after touching down with fever and throat ache. A resident of Panchashayar, on the southern fringes of the city, he had spent three weeks in Bangkok and three days in Malaysia, before returning to the city late on Thursday.

“But X-rays show his chest to be clear. He is apparently suffering from infected tonsils and pharyngitis. He has no other SARS-like symptoms,” said Chatterjee, adding that Sanketi’s blood sample has been sent to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (Niced), adjacent to ID Hospital.

Niced virologists also collected the blood samples of SARS suspects Hazari Prasad and Jamil Ahmed from the hospital. The reports are expected by Sunday. The four-member expert committee, headed by director of medical education C.R. Maity, set up last Wednesday to decide on the process of discharge of virus suspects from hospital, met at Niced on Friday to discuss the WHO protocol on this score.

The expert committee will meet again on Monday to decide on the release of Asitabha Purakayastha and Radheyshyam Gupta. Both Purakayastha and Gupta were said to be in “fine health”. Sources in the health department said Purakayastha is likely to be discharged from ID Hospital early next week.

“Neither Purakayastha nor Gupta showed the clinical symptoms mentioned by WHO. So, their infection is not of a virulent nature and they are unlikely to infect others,” clarified Chatterjee on Friday.

Purakayastha is now under observation in the solitary surgical facility located on the third floor of the Isolation Block of the hospital. The operation theatre, catering to patients suffering from diphtheria, is now geared to attend to Purakayastha’s cardiac condition alone, following a request from the family.

This has caused resentment among some doctors, who fear that if any other patient suffers an emergency, the hospital will struggle to handle it.

The Bengal branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on Friday kicked off a campaign to “educate” health workers about SARS and decided to request the government to frame a National Infectious Diseases Plan, in the wake of the confusion caused by SARS.

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