15 May, 2009

Malaysia confirms first H1N1 flu case

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) was informed that the first influenza A (H1N1) case involving a student was a passenger on board MH091 who arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on May 13.

A 21-year-old student who arrived here from the United States on the morning of May 13 has been confirmed as Malaysia's first case of A(H1N1) infection, the Health Ministry said today.

Its director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said in statement the youth was warded at the Sungai Buloh hospital on May 14 after suffering fever, sore throat and body aches, and was given anti-viral treatment after tests confirmed the infection. He is now in stable condition.

He said the ministry has studied the history of the youth’s contact, including family members and passengers and cabin crew of flight MH091 that he arrived in at 7.15am that day and is contacting them for follow-up checks.

An alert has now been sent out to all passengers who boarded flight MH 091 from Newark, USA and arrived at KL International Airport on May 13 at 7.15am. They are advised to contact 03-88810200 / 03-88810300 and submit themselves for tests. This is important to contain the spread of the virus should they be infected.

Ismail said the public has no reason to panic as his department is collaborating with all relevant agencies to ensure monitoring works are intensified and other proactive measures are taken to protect public health.

"Apart from this case, till Thursday, the Crisis Preparedness & Response Centre (CPRC) has received 11 cases -- six at Sungai Buloh isolation ward, two at Hospital Tuanku Jaafar, Seremban, one in each Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainon, Ipoh, Hospital Pulau Pinang and Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II, Kota Baru.

"All of these showed signs of infection and had a history of visiting infected countries. Their clinical samples however tested negative," he said.

Todate, there are 20 thermal scanners installed at entry points of the country and some 9,324 individuals arriving from the infected countries have been checked.

In the student's case, it is not clear why his case was not identified at the entry point.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai told Bernama from London that health personnel are tracking down all passengers on the flight and those who had come into contact with the student since his return.

"This is urgent and all have to work together to prevent the spread of the disease in this country. We have initiated various preventive measures and the health department is working hard on the ground," he said.

Liow also advised the public to be on high alert and immediately seek treatment if they feel unwell.

At least 34 countries reported more than 7,457 cases of the A(H1N1) infection worldwide, with 70 deaths.

The World Health Organisation has set the pandemic alert level is at phase 5 - out of a possible 6 - which means a global outbreak is 'imminent'.

He said the ministry also urged all clinics and private hospitals to be on constant alert and immediately notify the new cases of patients who just returmed from countries infected by the virus and those with similar symptoms.

The government has urged all passengers who travelled on Malaysian Airlines flight MH091 from Newark in the United States to Kuala Lumpur, that landed at 7.15am on May 13 to contact the ministry for further instructions.

"No passengers have been quarantined, we are still trying to trace them," acting health minister Kong Cho Ha said of the 199 passengers and crew onboard the flight.

"We will segregate them (when located). If they have no signs (of the disease) they can go after a certain number of days," he added.

However, he said there was a fear that some of those exposed to the infected patient may have gone on to Indonesia.

"We mention Indonesia because that flight is a code share with (Indonesian carrier) Garuda so the assumption is that there could be some passengers going to Indonesia," he added.

Officials could not immediately confirm how many Indonesians were on board nor if any passengers continued onto Indonesia.

Kong said Malaysia's alert level would remain the same despite its first confirmed H1N1 flu case as the country was already at its highest state of preparedness since the World Health Organisation raised its flu alert to phase five out of six.

"We have been on full alert," said Kong. "We are on a level of full preparedness."

Malaysia is also pushing for the WHO to get affected countries to implement exit screening in order to stop the spread of the disease amid concerns that a second wave of the H1N1 disease could be deadlier.

"If we can have travellers from affected countries screened before they are allowed to travel out, this will help us to contain the spread of such virus to other places," health minister Liow Tiong Lai told state media before heading off for the 62nd WHO General Assembly in Switzerland from May 18 to 22.

The world health body has not recommended travel restrictions following the outbreak but has advised those who are ill to delay their travel plans and urged returning travellers who fall ill to seek medical treatment.

Health officials could not immediately confirm if Malaysia would be implementing exit screening after confirming its first H1N1 case.

On Tuesday, the government urged its citizens to defer travel to the US, Mexico, Canada, Spain and Britain following reported cases of H1N1 flu in those countries.

Malaysian health authorities have installed 20 thermal scanners at the country's entry points to help detect cases with 9,324 passengers screened so far.

The latest World Health Organisation figures show the number of laboratory-confirmed H1N1 flu cases worldwide is 7,520 in 33 countries. A total of 65 people have died from the disease, most of them in Mexico, WHO figures show.

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