MERS infections may occur as Indonesians go on pilgrimage

A man wearing a mask poses with camels at a camel market in the village of al-Thamama near Riyadh May 11, 2014. Saudi Arabia said people handling camels should wear masks and gloves to prevent spreading Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), issuing such a warning for the first time as cases in the kingdom of the potentially fatal virus neared 500.
PHOTO: MERS infections may occur as Indonesians go on pilgrimage

A hospital official has predicted a rise in the number of people suspected of contracting the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the near future as many are still going to Saudi Arabia for umrah (minor pilgrimage).

"I don't know when it [MERS-CoV] will end. These [people] are still going for umrah. And it will continue with the haj pilgrimage," Head of the Lung Department of Adam Malik Hospital in Medan, Luhur Soeroso said on Sunday.

Besides the continuing umrah travel, Luhur said his prediction on the possible rise in suspected MERS cases was related to the latest developments in hospitals across the country.

"Almost every day, patients, suspected of contracting MERS, are transferred to Adam Malik hospital," he added.

As of Sunday, the hospital has treated eight suspected MERS patients from various regions in North Sumatra.

A new patient, identified as M, 26, was admitted to the hospital on Saturday at about 11 p.m. after seeking medical treatment at a clinic. The Medan resident who had just arrived in the city earlier that day from Saudi Arabia, had a severe cough and high fever. The hospital spokesperson Sairi Saragih said four of the eight suspected MERS patients had been discharged after either being declared negative or found to have been sick with ordinary influenza.

"[A patient] SHN is the only suspected-MERS case who has been discharged because the laboratory test results were negative while the remaining three patients just suffered ordinary influenza and went home without further treatment," Sairi said.

Sairi disclosed the four patients who were currently being treated in the hospital were identified only as AP, 63, a Belawan resident, MA, 71, from Medan, SPJ, 55, from Serdang Bedagai regency and M, 26, from Medan.

Doctors in the hospital, she went on, had taken samples of nasal and throat swabs of the suspected MERS patients and sent them to the Health Ministry's laboratory in Jakarta.

"We are still waiting for the lab results. If they are negative, they can go home," she added.

Although admitting to have limited facilities to handle suspected-MERS cases, Sairi said the hospital was ready to receive the patients.

"Adam Malik hospital only has 11 isolation rooms for inpatients with suspected MERS. It's not a large number but we have a system in place in case the number of patients increases," Sairi said without providing further details.

Meanwhile, Pekanbaru hospitals in Riau have discharged three suspected-MERS patients after negative lab results.

"Yes, all of them are negative and they went home," chairman of Riau team of doctors for MERS-CoV handling, Azizman Saad told reporters on Sunday.

Earlier, the Riau Health Agency disclosed that the administration was isolating three suspected-MERS patients who complained of high fever and respiratory problems after just arriving from umrah earlier this month.

Last year, about 180,000 Indonesians went on the haj pilgrimage and 700,000 on umrah.

Meanwhile, The Health Ministry's research and development agency confirmed that no patient who were in hospital across the country after coming back from umrah had contracted MERS-CoV.

"All samples that we have examined were negative, meaning that patients have not contracted MERS-CoV," agency head Tjandra Yoga Aditama said on Saturday.

He added that the Health Ministry's laboratory, which was one of three laboratories in Southeast Asia capable of identifying the coronavirus aside from those in India and Thailand, had found no positive cases of MERS-CoV in the country.

"I have notified health agencies in provinces and various hospitals about the process of taking samples or and which parts of the body to take samples from," Tjandra said.