Health Dept. wakes up to SARS threat

BANGALORE April 9. After being lukewarm to the threat of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) initially, the Health Department has formed a State-level Monitoring Committee to tackle the problem.

At a meeting held here on Wednesday, the Health and Family Welfare Minister, Kagodu Thimmappa, the Health Department officials and Airport officials decided to form such the committee.

It will be headed by the Principal Secretary to Government, Department of Health and Family Welfare and comprise officers from the airport, department and the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) officials, the Joint Commissioner of Police, and the doctors working for the Union Government.

The committee will monitor and screen passengers alighting from all international flights and any suspected SARS cases will be examined based on the airline staff's recommendation and any visible symptoms, according to the Additional Director of Health (Communicable Diseases), Kumaraswamy.

"Any persons complaining of SARS symptoms such as cough, sore throat, fever, and breathing problem and who have travelled in any of the 15 World Health Organisation (WHO) notified countries for 10 days will be kept under observation for 14 days as specified by the WHO," Dr. Kumaraswamy said.

Isolation Hospital had been identified to keep suspected SARS cases under observation and a ward had been earmarked for this purpose. TB Hospital on Old Madras Road and the SDS TB Sanatorium, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases, Manipal Hospital, Mallya Hospital, and Sagar Apollo Hospital had been identified as referral centres for suspected SARS cases, he said. Mallige Hospital and Command Hospital had also offered assistance, he said.

At the district level, the District Health Officers concerned had been asked to keep a tab on possible SARS cases.

Airport officials said a technical committee had been formed to monitor all travellers on a daily basis. Passengers would be asked to fill a form and details would be obtained from them regarding history of travel in SARS-affected countries, possible SARS symptoms, and so on. These details would be furnished to Health Department officials. Every week, 28 international flights arrive in the City. Six doctors have been stationed at the airport to deal with SARS threat. Manipal Hospital authorities said that an isolation ward had been identified for any likely SARS patients.

"We have briefed our doctors in the Casualty Department who will be handling any such cases, if found. Our casualty doctors and staff are already wearing N-95 masks for protection from any possible infection," Malathi, Director (Administration) at the hospital told The Hindu.

For information on SARS call 2386331.

Minister to visit airport

Mr. Thimmappa is likely to visit the airport on Thursday at 9 a.m. to take stock of the situation. He will be accompanied by officials from the Health and Family Welfare Department, including Dr. Kumaraswamy.