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Whispers of death at 2010 Games hub

There is talk of deaths and panic after an outbreak of a deadly brain fever, report Avishek G Dastidar and Vidya Krishnan.
Hindustan Times | By Avishek G Dastidar and Vidya Krishnan, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2008 12:55 AM IST

The construction site of the Commonwealth Games Village on the Yamuna riverbed has been hit by an outbreak of a deadly brain fever. There is talk of deaths and panic, and frightened workers want to leave for home.

“Nine workers from the construction site have come to us with meningitis in the past 10 days,” said Dr V.R. Sood, Medical Superintendent at Bimla Devi Hospital in Mayur Vihar II, the closest health centre. “So many cases from a single, enclosed space is worrying.”

This year, Delhi has had 109 cases of meningitis — from all across the city, with a population of over 1.25 crore; and 13 deaths.

Most workers are from Bihar and UP and live in cramped and unhygienic quarters at the construction site. Meningitis bacteria travels through air riding tiny, invisible droplets on exhaled breath. “An overcrowded, unhygienic and enclosed area fuels the outbreak,” said Dr Bir Singh, professor of community medicine at AIIMS. Infection follows high fever, which can turn fatal if not treated aggressively.

Rintu, a worker from Malda, Bengal, told Hindustan Times, “The fever is spreading fast inside the camp. People are falling unconscious. We are scared.” Sheesh Mohammad, a worker from Bihar, said: “Doctors at the camp are giving medicine for simple fever. But this doesn’t look like a simple disease.”

Some workers even attributed the outbreak to a curse. “Jamnaji bali maang rahi hain (The river is seeking sacrifice),” said Shankar, a worker from Bihar.

Workers claimed people have died and even named some victims, but HT was unable to verify them independently with the neighbourhood hospital or MCD.

The MCD sent its officials to inspect the site, which happened in the presence of HT reporters. The officials picked up blood samples for testing, but they were certain of the outbreak. “After inspection, all inhabitants of the camp were given 500 mg of ciprafloxacin as a antidote for meningococcemia,” said Dr V.K. Monga, chairman of the health committee, MCD.

The corporation suspects the construction site has been hit by meningococcemia, which has been reported from other parts of the city as well. Meningococcemia is a strain of meningitis and can also be fatal.

The company denied the outbreak. “Our officials at the site tell us that all the claims of outbreak, deaths and poor living conditions are false,” said Anupama Chopra, a spokesperson for the Emaar-MGF, which is developing the project.

But the corporation found living conditions unhygienic. “Sanitation facilities for the workers are inadequate. We have asked them to improve the conditions at the camp,” said Dr Monga.

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