Malaysia confirms first MERS-CoV fatality

Malaysia confirms first MERS-CoV fatality
Passengers walking past a thermal scanner at Manila’s International Airport. Philippine officials say a Filipino health worker who tested positive for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus has arrived home from the United Arab Emirates. Photo: AP
Published: 4:13 AM, April 17, 2014

SINGAPORE — A Malaysian man in Johor has died from Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) — the country’s first confirmed fatality from the virus — after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, less than a week after a Filipino hospital worker died of the virus in the United Arab Emirates.

The 54-year-old developed respiratory complications after returning on March 29. He died on April 13, three days after being admitted into hospital for fever, cough and breathing difficulties, the STAR newspaper reported.

The Malaysian authorities have urged those on board Turkish Airlines Flights TK93 and TK60 on the Jeddah-Istanbul-Kuala Lumpur route on March 29 to contact the Malaysian Health Ministry for a health screening.

In a statement yesterday, Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) said it was closely monitoring the latest development and is in close contact with its counterparts. As of Tuesday, the ministry had investigated 33 suspect cases this year and all tested negative.

Despite the risk of an MERS-CoV outbreak being low, hospitals are prepared to test for the virus, the MOH said. All suspected and confirmed cases will be isolated and managed under strict airborne infection control precautions. Contact tracing would be conducted where necessary and all close contacts would be placed under quarantine.

There is currently no advisory against travel to countries on the Arabian Peninsula or to countries with imported cases of MERS-CoV, including Malaysia, but the MOH said health advisories for travellers are in place at border checkpoints.

Meanwhile, one of the five Filipino health workers who tested positive for the virus in the UAE has returned to the Philippines. Mr Enrique Ona, the country’s Health Secretary, yesterday said the man had contact with the Filipino who died last week. While his blood tested positive, the man does not have symptoms of the disease and has been isolated, while those who have had contact with him are being traced and quarantined. Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered government agencies to take measures to prevent the spread of the virus, the Inquirer reported yesterday.

The MOH has advised frequent travellers to the Middle East, as well as Umrah or Haj pilgrims, to be vaccinated against influenza and meningitis. Those aged 65 and above or with chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections before travelling. Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic heart and lung conditions should consult a doctor before travelling, to assess whether they should make the pilgrimage.

MERS-CoV is a novel coronavirus that causes acute respiratory illness in infected patients. The World Health Organization has recorded 238 cases of this disease and 92 deaths related to the virus globally to date. AGENCIES