No more cases of MERS in Thailand, says health minister

No more cases of MERS in Thailand, says health minister
Tourists wear protective masks at an Airport Link train station yesterday, as part of preventive measures after the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was found in Thailand. Photo: The Nation/ANN

Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin yesterday dismissed reports on social media that more cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) had been found in the provinces.

"It is not true and people should not believe unconfirmed reports that may cause the public to panic,'' he said.

He said people could continue their normal life because the virus has not spread in the country. The first and only MERS patient was found to have been only mildly infected and it was unlikely that 175 people suspected to have come in contact with him would be affected, the minister said.

Rajata spoke at Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute after visiting the country's first MERS case and his three relatives, who were in the Airborne Infection Isolation Room.

He said the patient's condition had improved but he still needed to be under close watch. His three relatives had no fever and they no longer coughed.

The Public Health Ministry, in its newsletter, urged members of the public not to believe rumours spread through different channels. It said anyone who has questions about MERS should call the ministry's hotline, 1422, at any time.

Surachet Satitramai, caretaker permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said two of the three relatives had tested negative for MERS and the test results on one other relative would be available today.

He said some of the 175 people who came in contact with the country's first MERS patient had been put in quarantine for 14 days for the possible incubation period.

The person who sat next to the patient on the same airline had been identified and found on Friday, as well as the taxi driver.

He said 10 private hospitals popular among people from the Middle East for medical treatments were invited on Friday to discuss disease surveillance systems. He said international airlines would not allow sick patients to travel on their flights, which would help screen patients at one level.

More than 100 clinics and other private hospitals would also be invited to discuss disease control tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Nakhon Ratchasima's Public Health chief officer Dr Wichai Khattiyawittayakul said three people - two women and a six-year-old boy - who sat near the Middle Eastern man with MERS had been located. The boy had flu symptoms. They were brought under close medical surveillance and their blood samples were sent for tests in Bangkok. The results would come out today, he said.

Surachet insisted that Thailand had only one MERS patient and asked the media to respect the patient's rights and refrain from taking pictures of him and his family or his home, saying it was illegal.

All international airports in the country would provide special lanes for people travelling from the Middle East and South Korea to undergo disease screening before passing through immigration, he said.

Dr Chariya Saengsajja, director of the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute, said the country's first MERS patient was able to eat food by himself and was able to communicate, thanks to an interpreter from Oman. She said the patient was regarded as a high-risk patient because he was elderly with chronic diseases.

Dr Prasit Wattanapa, dean of Mahidol University's Faculty of Medicine, denied reports that Siriraj Hospital has MERS cases or suspected cases. He said the pictures of medical personnel wearing special suits were taken during some training sessions to brace for any emergency situation.

Professor Dr Theerawat Hemachuta of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Medicine, rejected reports that amoxycillin was effective in treating respiratory diseases. He said the medicine was for treating bacterial infection not viruses.

He said there was no medicine yet for MERS. He added that test results showed all 38 travellers from South Korea and the Middle East had tested negative for MERS.

Dr Rungruang Kijpati, a director of the Health Ministry's Disease Control Department, said a Buri Ram woman who sat next to the Middle East man infected with MERS in the same flight was not infected. He warned Buri Ram people not to panic about the disease supposedly spreading in the province.

Buri Ram health officials had put the Buri Ram woman in quarantine and may keep a watch on her for 14 days.

Bangkok Deputy City Clerk Dr Peerapong Saichua said that the city administration would adopt the same measures used with other communicable diseases such as Ebola, Sars and bird flu.

He said the city administration had 76 specialist teams keeping an eye on the disease. They would campaign to ensure city people are aware about the disease. They would also investigate, follow and monitor two groups of people - Thais returning from their Haj pilgrimage and foreigners who went on the pilgrimage and came to Thailand.

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