CHENNAI: The dreaded MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) may not be a scary proposition for people in the city, as no cases have been diagnosed or even reported till date: but that hasn’t stopped infectious diseases experts and the health department from prepping to handle it, in the event of an outbreak.Recently, five doctors from government hospitals in Chennai and Tiruvallur attended a training programme in Bengaluru to learn how to identify, diagnose and handle MERS.
Rampant in the Middle East, with cases being reported every day, there is a standing fear that the disease will reach our shores with the number of people travelling from the Arab countries to India. “The majority of people who come from there are usually Kerala-bound and so there is a stronger screening process there.But we are also building a similar process as there are a lot of people travelling to Chennai from the Middle East as well,” said a Health Department official. Confirming the same, Director of Public Health Dr K Kulandaisamy also said that information about MERS would be disseminated to all block-level medical officers to stay vigilant for signs of the virus.
However, diagnosing MERS may not be as easy as taking candy from a baby. Especially, when the diagnostic tests aren’t available here yet. “To my knowledge, the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests that are needed to diagnose MERS are not available in the country. First, because there are no confirmed cases here and second because it is expensive and needs to be imported at the moment,” explained Dr V Ramasubramanian, senior consultant in Infectious Diseases, HIV, Tropical and Travel Medicine at Apollo Hospitals.
Following a CME programme on infectious diseases conducted on Sunday, he added, “The NIV at Pune has the test protocols available, but unless we have it available in the mainstream here, it will be very difficult to actually diagnose and differentiate a disease as MERS.” The disease has symptoms just like any other respiratory syndrome and can spread from person to person through sputum and contact.