The Sunday Star, Sunday, April 11, 1999

Nipah virus

Govt names scourge of the pig-farming industry

By R.S.N. Murali

SEREMBAN: The virus which has crippled the pig-rearing industry and believed to have killed many people now has a name.

Nipah is named after the village--Kampung Baru Sungai Nipah--in Negri Sembilan where it was first detected by Universiti Malaya experts on March 18.

Announcing the name yesterday, Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng said the Nipah virus, the first of its kind in the world, was discovered by Dr Chua Kaw Ping from the Medical Microbiology Department (MMD) of Universiti Malaya.

"Experts from the Atlanta-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an Australian team and local medical and veterinary experts are working to determine the nature and characteristics of the virus," Chua said.

Laboratory tests were now in progress to obtain a better profile of Nipah.

Preliminary results on Nipah were obtained by using the Hendra antigen and the CDC was developing a new test kit for the virus, Chua said.

Nipah belongs to the Paramyxovirus strain, which shows similarities to the Hendra virus, which was first discovered in Australia in 1994.

MMD, which is part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Arboviruses, and the CDC confirmed the the existence of a new virus on March 18.

The next day, health director-general Tan Sri Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman announced that five samples taken from patients tested positive for "a Hendra-like virus."

Chua said so far, 88 patients from Negri Sembilan tested positive for Nipah virus.

There were also 11 patients from the state who tested positive for both Nipah and Japanese Encephalitis (JE) viruses, he said.

Although Chua did not say how many samples were tested so far, it was learnt that more than 200 samples were collected from outbreak areas.

Chua was speaking to reporters after presenting relief aid of RM1,000 each to 23 affected families at the Seremban Hospital here yesterday.

The viral outbreak has killed at least 77 people from Negri Sembilan since January.

The national death toll stands at 92 including 15 from a pig farming community in Ipoh where the outbreak was reported to have started in November 1997. Another 59 patients are still in hospital.

Chua described the findings on the Nipah virus as "a medical feat for the country" because it took only about four months to discover the microbe compared to other diseases like yellow fever, which took about 500 years to determine.

He said the number of JE cases had dropped since December, indicating that the control measures were correct and effective.

Chua advised those handling pigs to wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirt, trousers, plastic apron, face mask, goggle, boots and gloves.

He said nine patients were discharged from the Seremban and Universiti hospitals on Friday and no new cases were referred to the hospitals yesterday.

Chua said military personnel involved in the pig-culling exercise would undergo medical screening.

He said the Negri Sembilan health department and the army medical unit would conduct the screening when culling is completed.

Chua added that screening was vital following the hospitalisation of a 30-year-old soldier, Gowel Tukel, from the Eighth Ranger Regiment in Seremban.

Gowel, who was referred to the hospital on Monday, is reported to be stable although he is still in a coma.

Earlier, Defence Minister Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Mustapha and senior army officers visited Gowel at his ward.

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