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SARS update: Mystery surrounds two A-I pilots

April 25, 2003 20:28 IST

Health authorities on Friday said two Air-India pilots, described by the Indian Pilots Guild as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome suspects, were not infected with the deadly virus, but admitted they are being treated for upper respiratory tract infection.

The authorities, however, refused to disclose whether the pilots had flown to any SARS-infected country or stayed in any such area in the course of their duties.

"These two members of Indian Pilots Guild are indisposed for duty due to upper respiratory tract infection and are being investigated and treated by our company doctors," read a report signed by Air-India's Director of Medical Services Dr B B Gajre.

The report cited 'routine test before declaring them fit-to-fly' as the reason for the discovery of the pilots' condition. "Our doctors would not be investigating or treating them if they suspected even the remotest chance of SARS. On the basis of our clinical investigations and findings we are not suspecting SARS," the Air-India report received by Director General Health Services Dr S P Agarwal said.

Though the report conveys the official stand taken by the Air India on the issue it does not reveal whether the pilots had any other symptoms of SARS like fever or cough. It does not even mention whether they had travelled to any SARS-infected destination. "We do not have that information yet. But we will check it," Dr Agarwal said.

Meanwhile, no decision has been taken yet by the special group set up Thursday to tackle SARS on the issue of declaring SARS a notifiable disease. The DGHS, however, confirmed reports that the Delhi government is considering declaring SARS a notifiable disease.

Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Herawai Telecom Company employee from Guangdong province, China, who was under observation at a Delhi hospital since April 21 of this month has been declared SARS-negative and is being discharged with advice to be home quarantine.

The SARS suspects from Nashik and Jaipur, who had arrived in India from Houston and New York on April 18 and April 14 respectively, have also been declared SARS-negative and adviced home quarantine.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases, however, received seven more samples of SARS suspects on Friday and investigations are being conducted. They include those of a man from Bhatinda, Punjab, his wife and two of his relatives, who have no history of travel abroad or contact with infected persons, according to the DGHS.

The samples of a 72-year-old man from Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala, admitted to Thiruvanthapuram Medical College after being suspected of SARS have been sent to National Institute of Virology, Pune. "His chest X-ray is clear and the patient is afebrile (no fever)," the DGSH said, adding the man had travelled from Singapore to India on April 1.

Two more samples of SARS suspects from Ernakulam and Kochi have also been sent to NIV and the reports are awaited.

The total number of confirmed SARS cases in India remains four. Three of them are being treated in isolation at a Pune hospital and the fourth from Goa has been discharged. The DGHS also said that none of the 25 guests who were home quarantined after attending the wedding of a SARS-infected person in Pune have shown any symptoms of the disease.

SARS Attack: Complete Attack

Basharat Peer in New Delhi