29th October 2000
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MRSA: Hospital's operation theatre , ICU infected

By Tania Fernando
The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the operating theatre of a leading hospital in Colombo is alleged to be contaminated with a bacteria called 'Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus'(MRSA) which is resistant to most available antibiotics.

Hospital officials while accepting that MRSA is existent in their hospital, said that MRSA is common in all hospitals and is nothing serious. 

"The carrier could be a patient or even a doctor, but everyone who carries it does not necessarily get infected," the official said. MRSA could infect people through direct or indirect contact like sneezing, touching, droplets, inhaling.

Although treatment is available for MRSA in Sri Lanka, even if one is found to be a carrier of the germ, treatment is not given.

"Patients are treated only if it is confirmed that the patient is infected with it," the official said. The Sunday Times learns however the infection could result in the death if the immune system is weak. 

Medical sources said that it could be eradicated by fumigation and closure of contaminated units for a couple of days. 

Hospital sources denied this saying fumigation is an old method and the gasses used could be dangerous and thus there was no eradication method. They claimed that regular sterilization was being done once in three months and the only way the cross infection of MRSA could be controlled was by cleaning, scrubbing, washing using bleach.

The Medical Director of the Hospital said that the infection could be detected only through a culture, which she said was not practical. She said that in the event a patient tests positive to MRSA, it could be harmful like any other disease.

While the hospital claims that it was not serious and cannot result in death, it is alleged that several babies and old people had died due to MRSA. But they claim the death certificates produced by the hospital claims various other ailments as cause of death.

Health Ministry Secretary T Ranaviraja when asked about this hospital said "We don't have the legal right to check, but once a complanit is made we can look into it." 

Dengue and HFMD

Watch out 

By Faraza Farook
With the viral disease Hand Foot and Mouth (HFMD) and deadly Dengue raging in many parts of the country, the Health Ministry has called upon the people to take precautions. 

To control the spread of dengue, the public was asked to eradicate mosquito-breeding places in and around one's living environment. 

Parents were also requested to keep their children away from school and public gatherings if they suspected Dengue or HFMD. 

Speaking at a news conference held by the Ministry of Health, Prof. S.P Lamabadusooriya, senior paediatrician of Lady Ridgeway Hospital said children are the most common victims of both diseases. 

He said HFMD, which was rarely reported in Sri Lanka, had almost reached epidemic proportions for the first time this year, with more than 100 cases being reported in the past two months. Pointing out that children between the age group of two weeks to five years were the most vulnerable, Prof. 

Lamabadusooriya said the symptoms of HFMD appeared only after three to five days. The symptoms include fever that lasts for two to three days, sore throat, a runny nose, mouth ulcers, blisters on hands, feet and diaper areas, vomiting, diarrhoea, tiredness and weakness. 

He warned that the disease spread easily particularly through contact with nasal discharge, saliva, faeces, fluid from the blisters and items used by the patient including toys, eating utensils, towels, clothes and bed linen. 

Though many recover in 7-10 days, complications such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the heart could arise in rare cases. These patients will complain of severe headache, sleepiness or difficulty in breathing. Epidemiologist A. Abeysinghe also warned of the alarming rate of Dengue cases. He said the highest number of cases had been reported from the Colombo district with 1200, of which 265 were positive. Fourteen deaths had also been reported from the district. 

Islandwide statistics showed over 2000 cases up to last Monday, with 355 being positive and 23 deaths being reported. Dr. Abeysinghe said high fever, headache, facial rash, abdominal, muscle and joint pains, nausea and vomiting were some of the common symptoms associated with Dengue.

Coils can make you sick

The regular use of mosquito coils could result in long term health complications an environmental scientist has warned. Dr. Ajantha Perera told The Sunday Times that most people use coils almost daily but were unaware of the toxic fumes that were emitted.

"You will not drop dead because you use mosquito coils, but over a long, period of time, you could become sick and your body weak," she said.

She was particularly concerned about children who are exposed to coils during their developing years, where the body absorbs a lot from the environment as the metabolic activities were very high.

Another factor she highlighted was poor ventilation. "Often, doors and windows are kept closed in the night when a coil is lit. One can intake a huge percentage of the emitted substance into the body depending on the rate of breathing and how long one stays in that room, because nothing goes out," she explained. 

However, Dr. Ranjith de Alwis, Deputy Commissioner of Labour, Division of Occupational Hygiene said no serious long term health effects had been reported in human beings due to the use of coils.

Closure order on carbide factory extended

The closure order on the Union Carbide factory last week due to the alleged discharge of chemical waste to the common drain was extended for another week by the Negombo Magistrate until the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) submitted a detailed report on the matter as the CEA had failed to submit a report on the issue on Friday. 

While residents alleged that the chemical was often released from the factory which manufactured binder gums used in paint manufacture, Union Carbide Managing Director Gamini Gunasekera said the October 16 incident was purely accidental and the factory did not discharge such chemical waste to the common drain. The treated waste material was given to cement block manufacturers. Residents complained of breathing problems and several other chest ailments inhaling the fumes emitted from the factory.

On the Spot

Bindunuwewa reels in agony

By Chris Kamalendran
The silence of Bandarawela was shattered on Wednesday morning when angry mobs broke into the rehabilitation camp at Bindunuwewa and massacred 26 LTTE suspects undergoing rehabilitation.

Burnt down makeshift sheds at the campThe tension at this camp situated, two and half kilometres away from Bandarawela town had been building from the previous night, when the detainees started demanding their release.

Captain Y.K. Abeyratne, who is in charge of the camp was under pressure from the detainees demanding their release. The officer had explained that their request would be conveyed to the Defence Ministry .

Staff members attached to the camp had observed the argument between Captain Abeyratne and the detainees.

According to a welfare officer P. Pushparaj the trouble began the previous evening after religious observances.

One of the injured inmaters"The inmates wanted an immediate reply from the captain about dates of their release. Since it was too late no telephone calls were made. The detainees became agitated and started running. Two police guards came to the location," he explained.

He said towards night the situation got worse and the inmates armed with poles began acting in a threatening manner forcing the police to open fire into the air.

"The officer in charge of the camp tried to control the situation, but it did not help while the police officers moved out. The disturbances lasted for more than two hours," Pushparaj said.

The HQI of Bandarawela led a team to the camp in the night, but the inmates had not allowed them to enter and he had promised to take off the guard post in front fearing that they would create more problems.

However the area around the rehabilitation camp was placed under a police guard.

It was next morning that the trouble started when a mob surrounded the camp Pushparaj said.

"First there were sounds of pelting stones," he said.

The attack on the camp took place thereafter, but Pushparaj had escaped when the attack started.

Samaraweera WeerawanniThe camp was originally set up for the rehabilitation of JVP suspects in 1989, but in 1996 it was converted as a rehabilitation centre for LTTE suspects and brought under the Youth Affairs Ministry.

"The detainees regularly visit the town. They took part in Shramadana campaigns and attended to odd jobs in the village. They had a good rapport with the people," the Grama Sevaka for the area R.M.A. Ratnayaka said.

But in recent months there were allegations that the inmates of the camp had poisoned some of the dogs in the village, pelted stones and been rude to the villagers, he said.

The provocations had angered villagers. But even on the previous day of the attack the inmates had visited the town and even gone to a bathing spot Mr. Ratnayake who was a regular visitor to the camp said.

Colonel M.A. Vipulaguna, Deputy Commissioner of Rehabilitation who rushed to the scene after the attack told The Sunday Times that according to preliminary investigations there had been an apparent hostage drama where the inmates had attempted to take Capt. Abeyratne hostage.

Colonel Vipulaguna believes that the news spread to the village that the inmates were trying to take the officer hostage and some of them were trying to escape. He says the mob had turned up thereafter.

P. PushparajThe mob which entered the camp were armed with clubs, stones, iron rods, and other improvised devices to attack the inmates of the camp whose ages varied from 14 to 50 years.

Twenty-five of the inmates were killed instantly in the attack which lasted about half an hour during which their makeshift sheds were also set on fire. 

Capt Abeyratne, meanwhile had rushed to the Bandarawela police from where a team was despatched to the camp while an army team had been despatched from Diyatalawa. 

Fourteen people injured in the attack were rushed to Diyatalawa, Bandarawela and Badulla hospitals. Four who were in a serious condition were transferred to Colombo and the rest to the Diyatalawa Army hospital. Two people succumbed to their injuries in hospital.

Police and Army teams kept the situation under control in Bandarawela town, which has a mixed population while the rehabilitation camp was placed under, guard to facilitate the investigations.

President Kumaratunga who condemned the attack strongly ordered a full scale investigation after blaming unnamed 'external forces' for the massacre.

Local and international protests poured in calling for a full scale probe on the incident, which analysts see as a major set back to efforts at improving human rights records.

The incident has also raised serious questions whether the authorities in charge of the camp and the Police had taken necessary precautions to safe guard the camp if there were provocations by the inmates of the camp.

Uva Province chief minister Samaraweera Weerawanni who visited the scene after the incident told 'The Sunday Times' that he strongly condemned the attack and he strongly believed that the motive of the attack was to create civil unrest in the country.

He said he cannot rule out the possibility that the LTTE engineered the attack by provoking the villagers.

"We cannot say who was responsible for the attack until the investigations are completed," he said.

Bandarawela Urban Council chairman Nalin Priyantha said the incident had brought disrepute to the town which was also popular as a tourist destination .

The UC Chairman believes that 'outside elements' were responsible for the attack. 'There aren't so many villagers who could have spontaneously got involved in the attack. It apprears to be an organised attack," he added.

Soon after the incident posters came up in the Bandarawela town condemning the LTTE, indicating there could have been organised group behind the attack.

The rehabilitation camp during the past four years had rehabilitated nearly 1800 Tamil youth, mainly from the north and eastern provinces.

Col. Vipulaguna said the rehabilitation period was for 12 months and said he believed there had been no major reason for the inmates to create problems demanding their immediate release. He said that during his previous visits he had not noticed any serious problems in the camp.

"In fact some of the inmates told us that they cannot go back to their villages even if they are released," he said.

"This will be a major set back on the programme to call for LTTE suspects to surrender," he said.

Meanwhile two of the inmates who were working part time in a bakery in the town were lucky to escape the attack as they had gone for night duty and delayed returning to the camp.

They were taken to the morgue and hospitals to identify the dead and the injured. The Government pending the investigations have suspended the work of 60 policemen and Captain Abeyratne for failure to prevent the incidents in the camp.

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