Uttar Pradesh: Amid misinformation and panic, fever clinics filter out flu patients

Avaneesh Mishra

A man undergoes thermal screening at the fever clinic ward of KGMU in Lucknow on Thursday. (Express Photo)

Afraid that they might be infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), people suffering from seasonal flu are panicking and thronging the fever clinics set up by the Uttar Pradesh government at several medical facilities, including all the 75 district hospitals.

State Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh told The Indian Express that the clinics had to be started, given the number of apprehensive patients with just flu who were thronging hospitals. In the coming days, more such facilities would be started, he added.

Patients visit the clinic at King George Medical University (KGMU) here through the day. On Thursday afternoon, it was the only section of the hospital that was not completely deserted. A staff member in charge of the thermal scanner at the building’s entrance said the ward remains open 24 hours, and patients keep coming at all hours.

“All other OPDs [outpatient departments] are closed and patients are apprehensive and that is why the corona OPD/fever clinics were established,” said Dr Manish Vajpayee of KGMU’s Physiology and Family Medicine Department. He is in charge of the clinic. “If someone has a suspicion of coronavirus, then as per the ICMR guidelines we suggest tests for those symptomatic persons who have returned from foreign countries between last 14 days and 21 days, those who might have come in contact with corona patients, or those health workers who come in contact with corona patients.”

Dr Vajpayee said in the initial days of the pandemic doctors found it difficult to convince patients that they did not need to be tested for coronavirus infection. “But now, private tests have started so when they start insisting, we ask them to try the private testing centres,” he added, pointing out that Dr Reddy’s Laboratories was conducting the tests. The pharmaceutical company, which has opened three labs in UP, is the first private firm which has got permission to conduct tests.

On Wednesday about 80 people visited the clinic, while there were 140 people the day before.

The hospital’s Chief Medical Superintendent Dr SN Shankhwar said at the moment five doctors from the departments of medicine and family medicine - one faculty member and four residents - were working round the clock at the clinic in six-hour shifts.

Dr Vajpayee said there was a lot of misinformation. “One subject came to us only today, 12 days after he returned from an Arab country on March 14 and said that he did not know what to do,” he added. “Most of the people who come to us have just normal cold, and want to get tested for corona. We are not testing them unless they fulfill the [ICMR] criteria.”

He said the clinics had been set up to see if patients have COVID-19 or the usual flu. “From here we decide if the patient needs home isolation, institutional quarantine or should be tested,” he added.

At 4 pm in the evening, resident doctor Jitendra Kumar was screening people, who were asked to sit on a metal chair around 4 metres from his table and provide their medical details.

The doctor disposed of his gloves after inspecting every person in his room, and frequently used handwash and hand-sanitiser.

“This is my first day here,” said the doctor. “I have been sitting here for the last hour, and have checked around five to six patients, out of which only one is suspected of coronavirus. The person returned from Nepal eight days ago, and got fever. He told me that he went to RML Hospital in Lucknow but he is not getting any better. I have sent him for testing and now he will be kept in isolation until the test result comes. If positive, he will be kept in isolation, if not then in institutional quarantine.”

One of the patients at the clinic was 55-year-old rickshaw-puller Ramadhar, who got a fever three days back. He was also coughing, and having trouble breathing. He was accompanied by his son 25-year-old Mukesh.

Dr Kumar checked Ramadhar, and asked Mukesh about his family’s travel history and his father’s symptoms. Convinced that the symptoms were not of COVID-19, the doctor said there was no need to test him for the virus. He prescribed a few medicines, and asked Ramadhar to remain in home quarantine as a precautionary measure.

Around 10 km away, another fever clinic has been operational at Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Civil Hospital since March 23. Doctors there work in two shifts of six hours each. However, fewer patients have visited it compared to the KGMU clinic. Till date, 170 patients have been checked there, and none of them have tested positive for COVID-19.