Doctors have been asked to report any unusual cases of respiratory infection among people with a history of Gulf travel, and send their samples to Pune for testing.
The state government on Monday evening asked district administrations to report all cases in which "patients with unusual respiratory infections are not responding to regular drugs". The circular also asked officials to find out if such patients had recently visited any of the Gulf countries.
The circular follows a communication that the Centre issued after a high-level meeting. With 40 deaths in Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries and over 80 positive cases of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), the World Health Organisation has asked countries to monitor unusual respiratory infection patterns and start testing patients for this new virus.
The state's circular also notes that the symptoms of MERS are similar those of bird flu - runny nose, throat infection, respiratory problems and fever. Hospitals have been told to send any suspicious samples to Pune's National Institute of Virology (the only lab in the state equipped to test for MERS) and closely monitor the patients' health.
Dr Pradeep Awate, head of the state's epidemiology cell, said, "We have sent circular to local bodies across the state to monitor people with respiratory problems who have a history of visiting the Gulf and send their samples to Pune. The MERS virus is a variant of the H7N9 virus has symptoms similar to those of bird flu. If any reports comes back positive, we will ask them to quarantine the patient. As of now we have only received this much instruction from the central government. No specific guildeline for treatment has been issued."
Dr Awate added so far not single case of MERS has been detected in India. With more cases being reported every day, the WHO has declared the virus "a threat to the entire world". An official from state's health department said, "The main concern is the Hajj; thousands of people will visit Saudi Arabia in October, and this poses a risk."But more cases are not being reported every day. Saudi Arabia hasn't reported a new case since July 8, and Abu Dhabi reported a case on July 12. As a pestilence, MERS has thrilled the epidemiologists but it has yet to do anything like real damage to humanity: 82 cases, even with 45 deaths, are not the stuff of pandemics.
Yes, it deserves attention and study. Yes, I check the Saudi MOH corona page several times a day. But more pilgrims will arrive back in India next fall with bad colds than with MERS.