JAKARTA - A woman in Medan, North Sumatra, is thought to have contracted the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), after the death of a man, also suspected of having the deadly virus, a day earlier.
Luhur Soeroso, head of the lung department at Adam Malik Hospital in Medan, said on Tuesday that the patient, a 50-year-old woman known only as SHN, was being treated in isolation for an infection from Monday afternoon.
"She was showing symptoms that led to suspicions of MERS, after she returned from umrah [minor pilgrimage] last Friday with the other patient."
Luhur said that on Friday, SHN had received treatment at the Medistra Hospital in Lubuk Pakam due to her weak condition. Later, she was transferred to Adam Malik after suffering from a very high fever.
On Monday, a 54-year-old man known as KS was suspected to have died from MERS at the Adam Malik Hospital, shortly after returning from Saudi Arabia. "SHN and KS returned from umrah on the same day but on different flights," Luhur said.
He added that some people recalled seeing KS standing near some camels in Saudi Arabia. Camels are suspected of being the likely source of the virus. However, he said KS might have also been infected by other people.
The government has started rolling out its plans to anticipate the spread of MERS to Indonesian nationals at home and abroad. Prospective pilgrims are expected to observe the recommendations from the Religious Affairs Ministry in preparating their trips, including washing their hands with soap, not visiting animal farms or slaughterhouses and always wearing health masks.
Head of the ministry's haj health centre, Fidiansjah, said transmission from animals to humans and humans to humans remained inconclusive
"We haven't been able to ascertain the origin of the virus. All of our analysis is tentative, whether we are looking at camel-to-human or human-to-human contagion," he said.
Even so, he added that current cases of MERS indicated limited human-to-human transmission, which meant an infected individual was unable to pass on the virus to another person.
Fidiansjah also confirmed that mouth swabs taken from an infected person would be tested in the laboratory and would only test positive for the virus after two days.
The ministry's director general for the haj and umrah, Anggito Abimanyu, announced several preventive measures that the ministry, as well as haj and umrah travel organizers in the country, would soon implement in preparation for the holy month of Ramadhan.
"In response to yesterday's joint-ministerial meeting by the Office of the Coordinating People's Welfare Minister, we are taking steps to prevent the spread of MERS-CoV ahead of Ramadhan, when more people are likely to go on umrah to Saudi Arabia," Anggito said.
At least 700,000 pilgrims are expected to travel to the Kingdom this year for the minor haj and 250,000 for the haj, according to the Religious Affairs Ministry
According to Anggito, the ministry will advise several groups of people - those over 65-years-old, the chronically ill, pregnant women, children under 12 and those with weak immune systems - to postpone their umrah journeys this year.