The Ministry of Health (MOH) has confirmed the laboratory test results of an elderly man who was allegedly infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), are negative.

The statement comes after a viral message on social media – believed to be from the patient’s grandniece – claimed that the man fainted upon returning to Malaysia from Umrah, and was being treated for MERS-CoV at Hospital Putrajaya.

"Her irresponsible action by circulating false information has raised concerns among the public. Her post had garnered 9,000 tweets. The incident is very regrettable," said Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah in a statement on 24 December.

Health advisory issued for Malaysian pilgrims

Dr Noor Hisham said the MOH was constantly monitoring the development of the MERS-CoV infection, which was reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), especially since it is the season where large numbers of Malaysians are travelling to the Middle East to perform Umrah and Haj.

"Based on records, more than 3,000 pilgrims and those who had visited the Middle East countries had shown symptoms of the disease and test results were negative except for one man in his fifties who had come back from Umrah in 2014," he said.

He added that the MOH has issued a health advisory for Malaysian pilgrims to take preventive measures against the disease during and after returning from the Holy land.

The viral post circulating across Twitter had since garnered 9,000 tweets within three days. Photo credit: MOH Malaysia
The viral post circulating across Twitter had since garnered 9,000 tweets within three days. Photo credit: MOH Malaysia

Dr Noor Hisham said since 2012 until today, there were 2,121 positive MERS-CoV cases which were confirmed through lab test, involving 740 deaths across the world.

The ministry, he said, wished to affirm that the spread of MERS-CoV infection is still active amongst Middle East countries especially Saudi Arabia which contributed to 80% of the total MERS-CoV throughout the world.

Saudi Arabia health officials have reported 18 new cases of MERS-CoV since October 31, five of them fatal.

Of this global total, nine out of 10 cases have been reported from 10 Middle East countries–1,749 cases in Saudi Arabia, 85 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 28 in Jordan, 19 in Qatar, 10 in Oman, six in Iran, four in Kuwait, two in Lebanon, and one each in Yemen and Bahrain.

The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health also reported a suspected case of MERS-CoV involving a 60-year-old female who recently travelled to Iran. She is stable and treated at Ruttonjee Hospital, with a negative MERS-CoV preliminary test result.

Precautions necessary to curb new infections

Among the new MERS-CoV cases in Saudi Arabia, 13 were male and five were female patients aged between 13 to 90. Out of the 18 patients, 15 had underlying illnesses, five had contact with camels, four consumed camel milk and one had contact with a previously confirmed patient.

“Travellers to the Middle East should avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels; avoid contact with sick persons and animals, especially camels, birds or poultry; and avoid unnecessary visits to healthcare facilities.

“We strongly advise travel agents organising tours to the Middle East to abstain from arranging camel rides and activities involving direct contact with camels, which are known risk factors for acquiring MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV),” highlighted a spokesman for the CHP.

Malaysia’s MOH has issued health advisories for Malaysian pilgrims to take preventive measures against the disease during and after returning from the Holy land. Photo credit: MOH Malaysia
Malaysia’s MOH has issued health advisories for Malaysian pilgrims to take preventive measures against the disease during and after returning from the Holy land. Photo credit: MOH Malaysia

Furthermore, a new research in Science Advances reveals that the human gastrointestinal tract can serve as an alternative infection route for the MERS virus. This could explain why MERS infections occur even without direct contact with camels or other carriers.

Dr Noor Hisham said that the MOH will “beef up monitoring and be prepared in the event the disease gets into the country,” and that they will “also require assistance and cooperation from all ministries and agencies, including tourism agencies, pilgrims and travellers in preventing the spread of the disease into the country,"

The latest information on MERS-CoV and its development could be obtained from the ministry's website at http://www.moh.gov.my or through their Facebook page 'National Crisis Preparedness Response Centre'. MIMS

Read more:
Malaysia Health Ministry enhances screening procedures at entry points to curb Mers-CoV
Thailand confirms new MERS CoV case, UN cautions travelers
Patient zero: Their stories and the path of epidemics
South Korean MERS strain sourced from 'super spreader'

Sources:
https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/12/318099/elderly-man-admitted-hospital-putrajaya-few-days-ago-free-mers-cov
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/12/24/health-ministry-denies-viral-message-on-umrah-pilgrim-with-mers-cov/
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/health-ministry-denies-viral-message-on-umrah-pilgrim-with-mers-cov#esI1rHH2k6ztIIeQ.97
http://outbreaknewstoday.com/mers-saudi-arabia-reports-18-additional-cases-suspect-case-hong-kong-26324/
https://www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2017.159
https://kpkesihatan.com/2017/12/24/kenyataan-akhbar-kpk-24-disember-2017-peringatan-berkala-mengenai-penularan-jangkitan-middle-east-respiratory-syndrome-coronavirus-mers-cov/