On Monday, all roads seemed to lead to GB Pant Hospital, Kashmir's lone hospital for children. The news about "unknown viral sickness" had struck parents as lightning and thousands of children were brought to hospital for specialist consultation. Ruckus followed.
GB Pant Hospital has been witnessing an unprecedented rush of patients lately, ever since "the season" arrived. On Wednesday, 1500 children were seen in GB Pant Hospital OPD, a number that hospital administration said was more than double their usual OPD numbers. While doctors said most of the children had "common cold symptoms", the panic among parents created a scene of chaos.
By noon, parents who had travelled from far off places and reported at the hospital early morning grew impatient. "I have travelled all the way from Kunzer with my sick child. He has fever that is not getting better. But I have been waiting for four hours here. They are not letting us in," an agitated parent complained and pleaded the guard to let him in. There was no space to go in.
Inside, the OPD area and the waiting hall were jam-packed. Hospital administration requested parents and attendants to line up in a queue outside the OPD area, a direction that was not heeded to as even outside the hospital lawns, huge rush was seen. The lawns were full of people trying to push in their way into the hospital building. Entries were plugged with people.
The four cabins, adjacent to each other on the ground floor of the hospital had 12 doctors, three in each. Patients had swarmed around doctors.
Outside, by afternoon, violent scenes and verbal duels started to erupt. Angry parents and attendants pleaded for entry into hospital, rejected, slapped the security guards.
Three guards were reportedly manhandled.
Dr Kaiser Ahmed, Pediatrician and Principal Government Medical College Srinagar said that such scenes were uncalled for. "About 90 percent of children that we saw today did not even need to be seen by a doctor," he said. He had made himself available at the hospital OPD since morning. He said that "a miniscule number" of patients needed admission.
Pediatricians stressed on the need to spread awareness and educate people about "when to see a doctor". "Every sneeze and cough is not influenza. Most of cough and cold illnesses are self limiting" Dr Kaiser said.
He said that the huge rush and congregation such as one seen in GB Pant Hospital was avoidable and could risk children with infections. "In such congregations, contagious diseases threatened their well being. Cough and cold did not," he said.
Influenza expert and Head Department of Internal Medicine at SKIMS, Dr Parvaiz A Kaul said that parents should watch for "High grade fever – more than 101 F and severe chills, body-ache, head-ache, difficulty in breathing, sometimes vomiting and/or diahorrea". "People need to differentiate between common cough and cold and influenza."
While at GB Pant Hospital, patients from all parts of Kashmir had arrived, officials in Directorate of Health Services said that "things were usual" in district hospitals. "Quite a usual rush was seen, although there are more people presenting with cough and cold," Dr Saleem ur Rehman said.
Dr Rehana Kausar, head of Integrated Disease Surveillance Program said that samples had been sent for testing and "there was nothing that required an alarm". "Very few cases of influenza have been seen," she said.
Doctors described "the season" as weather and humidity conditions that are conducive for most viruses, "including those of common cold and influenza". However, recent reports of "unknown viral sickness", they believe was contributing to uncalled for scare. "There is a need for mass awareness," they said.