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Flyers From Middle East Under Scanner

After the SARS scare in 2002 and the dreaded H1N1 which killed 196 people in Gujarat last season, another viral threat looms large this winter. Experts have sounded an alert for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS–CoV), nicknamed the Saudi SARS, which has killed 63 people in the region since it was first detected in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The health unit at Ahmedabad airport has already been put on alert. Around 700–750 passengers arrive from the Middle East in Ahmedabad daily. An average six flights arrive at the city airport everyday from the region. More than 40 flights land from these cities on an average in a week at Ahmedabad.

Gujarat also attracts a number of medical tourists from this region. The influx is expected to rise with the NRG season beginning this winter.

After SARS Epidemic, Corona Virus Threat Looms Over Gujarat

"After H1N1, the MERS CoV is the next big emerging threat. Infectious diseases specialists should ask for the travel history of patients coming with fever, cough, breathlessness and acute respiratory distress. If there is a connection with Middle East countries, MERS should be considered," said leading infectious diseases (ID) expert Dr Atul Patel.

Dr Patel said that a special plenary discussion was held on this virus in an international conference in US recently. "The alarming bit about Saudi SARS is that it is rapidly fatal. The symptoms are similar to other viral fevers – fever, cough, breathlessness but the patient deteriorates rapidly as the virus afflicts both the lower as well as upper respiratory tract. It is also known to report kidney complications," Dr Patel said.

Following the WHO alert, the ministry of health has issued directives to airports across the country for the same. "If any individual is suffering from such symptoms, he or she has to do self–declaration and the airline needs to inform the concerned airport. We have also put the airport health unit at the city airport on alert if any such patient arrives," said R K Singh, city airport director. He said that the ministry has assigned such cases to the Civil Hospital and VS Hospital.

An official from the state health department said that while there is awareness about the threat, there is not much action on ground as there are no directives from the ministry. "A plan to train experts from Gujarat in the detection and treatment of MERS CoV is under process by the central government," he said.

Times of India
23 November 2013,
Ahmedabad, India
By - Radha Sharma & Piyush Mishra
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