Villagers quarantined as first death from Mers virus hits Malaysia

64 villagers in isolation after neighbour dies of Sars-like virus after pilgrimage to Mecca

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 1:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 1:35am


Malaysia has quarantined 64 people in a southern village after one of its residents become the country's first person to die of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers).

The first fatality in Muslim-majority Malaysia - a 54-year-old man - died in hospital in the southern state of Johor on Sunday. He had developed a fever, cough and breathing difficulties after returning from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on March 29.

Health authorities screened about 100 people from the man's village, Kampung Bintang, in Johor to check for more infections, The Star newspaper said, quoting Ayub Rahmat, a state lawmaker in charge of health.

Sixty-four will be quarantined for a week after showing possible Mers symptoms.

"This is the first such case in Malaysia and we take this matter seriously. That is why we are taking steps to screen the villagers to prevent the virus from spreading," Ayub was quoting as saying.

Officials in the Philippines meanwhile asked more than 400 passengers who shared an airline flight with a man infected with the Mers virus to check in with the health department immediately.

Passengers on the Etihad Airways flight on April 15 were told to call health department emergency numbers listed in the media even while the department tries to track them down, said Lyndon Lee Suy, the spokesman for the department's emergency service.

"We want to make sure that none of them would have caught the virus. We don't want to miss a single case," he said. The 418 passengers will be asked if they have fever or flu-like symptoms that might be signs of the sometimes fatal Mers.

The spokesman could not say how many of the passengers had already been contacted.

Mers is considered a deadlier but less easily transmitted cousin of the Sars virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,096 people, killing 774.

The Mers outbreak was initially concentrated in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia but has now spread to other areas of the country and abroad. Experts are still struggling to understand Mers, for which there is no known vaccine.

Last week panic over the spread of Mers among medical staff in Jeddah forced the temporary closure of an emergency room at a major hospital, prompting Saudi Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah to visit the facility in a bid to calm the public.

Local media reported on Wednesday at least four doctors at Jeddah's King Fahd hospital resigned this week after refusing to treat patients affected by Mers.