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SARS scare: two scientists sent to Bhopal

By P. Sunderarajan

NEW DELHI April 4. Has `SARS', the killer pneumonia infection, which has been causing havoc in as many as 18 countries across the world, finally entered India?

The Centre today despatched two top scientists from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) here to Bhopal to investigate such a possibility, following reports of a suspected case of the disease there.Senior officials of the Union Health Ministry said the probe has been ordered as even though on the face of it, the case, an 18-year old boy, did not seem to be due to SARS, there were some doubts.The case as such did not appear to be SARS, as the boy had no history of travel to any of the SARS-affected country, or for that matter anywhere abroad, though he was suffering from cough and cold and also had fever.As per the case definition of SARS, a person would be considered as suffering from it if he or she has the following three conditions: the sudden onset of high fever (more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit); cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty in breathing and either has a history of visit to a SARS-affected country within 10 days of the onset of the two physical symptoms or a history of contact with a person who has been diagnosed with SARS.

In the case of the boy, he having contacted the first two conditions — he had cough for three days and fever for two days, but there was lack of clarity with regards to the third condition. He had not travelled to any SARS-affected country, but it was still not clear whether he had come in contact with a person affected by the disease. Doubts have arisen since there were reports of nine deaths due to pneumonia in the neighbourhood where the boy lived over the past two to three months. The two-member NICD team would investigate the circumstances under which the nine deaths took place and see whether there is any linkage. The boy is now in an isolation ward. The team, consisting of the Deputy Director (Epidemiology) and the Joint Director (Microbiology), will also collect blood and other samples from the boy for testing at the NICD.

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