Delhi hospitals fill up as smog continues

NEW DELHI: In the emergency ward of a Delhi hospital, men and women gasp for breath as they wait to be treated for symptoms triggered by the choking blanket of smog that descended on the Indian capital this week.

Doctors at the government-run Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute say patient numbers have more than tripled since pollution levels spiked.

Shopkeeper Manoj Khati said that he initially dismissed his heaving cough, but it grew gradually worse and he has now been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.

"For three days I haven't stopped coughing, I felt as though I would die," the 46-year-old told AFP as he waited to undergo further tests.

Levels of PM2.5 - the fine pollution particles linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease - regularly topped 500 this week, at one point going over 1,000. Any level over 300 is considered hazardous.

Dr Arvind Kumar, a respiratory diseases specialist at the private Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, said that many of the worst health effects would not be seen for years to come.

He said: "Pollution kills you slowly. Whatever toxin levels we are exposed to today, suppose it continued for 10 days, this would have shortened the life of each one of us by several days or several weeks.

"But that effect will be noticed many, many years later, so it's not an immediate killer.

"And that's why its potential lethal value is not immediately appreciated but, nonetheless, it's a lethal killer." - AFP