Authorities on alert for MERS outbreak among returning haj pilgrims

Noor Atiqah Sulaiman

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysians who have just returned from completing the haj in Saudi Arabia and are experiencing symptoms of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (or MERS-CoV) are urged to seek medical treatment immediately.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah made the call today, and listed fever, coughing, the flu and a sore throat as symptoms of MERS-CoV.

He also urged those who seek medical treatment to inform their physicians of their recent travel to the Holy Land.

“Pilgrims who are sick should cover their mouths and noses with tissues when coughing or sneezing. The used tissues should be disposed of properly in a bin, and the pilgrims’ hands should be washed with water and soap.

“People who are ill should limit mingling with others. If they are required to deal with others, they should wear facial masks. By doing so, they will help stop the spread of the virus,” he said in a statement.

MERS-CoV belongs to the coronavirus family, the same family of viruses which causes the common cold. In some cases, the virus can lead to serious complications, including organ failure and pneumonia.

Dr Noor Hisham said the ministry has made preparations to face the possibility of a MERS-CoV outbreak.

“Since January 2013 until now, the ministry has received about 4,435 notifications on patients who have been tested for MERS-CoV.

“A majority of the cases (were negative). (There were) two positive cases involving a pilgrim from Batu Pahat, Johor in April 2014; and another from Klang, Selangor in Dec 2017.

“For this year, we received 27 notifications... Based on laboratory tests, we have determined that they are all free from the virus,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham added that the ministry is working closely with Tabung Haji on the health maintenance aspects of Malaysian pilgrims, including conducting medical checkups, vaccinations and briefings on MERS-CoV.

“The ministry also sent a medical team to the Holy Land which was tasked with looking after the pilgrims’ medical needs,” he said, adding that more effort has been made to raise public awareness on MERS-CoV.

He added that all government and private-run medical facilities have been told to maintain the highest level of readiness to manage a MERS-CoV outbreak.

For more information about the virus, visit the ministry’s website at © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd