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Soutik Biswas

A schoolboy covers his face with a handkerchief as he waits for a passenger bus on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India, November 8, 2017Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Doctors are asking people to wear anti-pollution masks outdoors and many have improvised

Last week, a six-year-old boy returned home from school in Delhi, fidgety and complaining of breathlessness.

“I thought he was joking and trying to avoid school as he’s never had a history of respiratory problems,” his father told me. Within hours, however, the boy was coughing violently and gasping for breath. The parents put the family in a taxi and drove through the smog to the nearest hospital.

At the hospital, doctors diagnosed the boy as suffering from an attack of acute bronchitis.

During the next four hours, they gave him steroid injections and nebuliser treatment to clear his inflamed airway, and pumped him with antibiotics and allergy medication to prevent further infection. “It was a bad attack,” Dr Prashant Saxena, chief pulmonologist at the Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital, told me. “So we had to treat him pretty aggressively.”

‘Poison air’

The boy took three days, two of them spent in hospital, to get better. Now he’s confined indoors, getting nebuliser and steam inhalation treatment twice a day, and taking steroids and an anti-allergy syrup. “This has come as a complete shock for us. He has been such a healthy boy,” the father said.

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