THE NEWS that the outbreak of pneumonic plague in India has reached the country's largest cities has caused considerable concern among travellers about to set off for the sub-continent. More than 1,500 suspected cases of the disease have so far been reported. But Dr Paul Clarke, medical director of Masta, the travellers' health service, says the risks are extremely small.

'We are suggesting people avoid Gujarat state and in particular the port of Surat. There are some isolated cases in very poor areas of Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay; the way to minimise the risk is to avoid unnecessary contact with local people in crowded and unhygienic areas.'

There is no immunisation available against the disease, but Dr Clarke suggests visitors may wish to take a small supply of the antibiotic tetracycline, obtainable from GPs. 'If people become ill with fever, a cough and prostration, they should seek medical advice locally.'

More information is available on the (premium-rate) Masta travel advice line: 0891 224100.

Reaching India has become increasingly difficult, because of the ban on air travel between the Gulf states and India - a route popular with UK travellers using cut-price tickets. The airlines involved are rebooking passengers who are already in India to fly home on other carriers, but people who have yet to start their trips are not automatically being transferred to other airlines; passengers are simply being given refunds by Kuwait Airways and Emirates. Gulf Air is charging its ticket-holders between pounds 25 and pounds 55 to book them on other carriers. Alternatively passengers can get a full refund or rebook on Gulf Air services when they start up again.

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