Monday, January 24, 2005

Measles control: Bakun area put under quarantine

Excerpt from TheStar

BY STEPHEN THEN AND ROYCE CHEAH

MIRI: The Bakun area in Sarawak, where a measles outbreak has killed 13 Penan children and an adult in recent weeks, has been put under quarantine.

The state government said the decision to isolate the area was to ensure that the outbreak was brought under control and those who had been infected were given immediate attention.

More than 50 others, mostly from the Sungai Urun and Sungai Asap villages, were reported to have contracted the disease since the outbreak started on Dec 27.

The children, aged between three months and five years, were from Sungai Urun in the interior Belaga district, near the Bakun hydroelectric dam project site.

At least 13 other children and five adults were still warded at the Bintulu Hospital yesterday.

There are about 15,000 people, mostly from the Penan community, staying in the villages and surrounding areas near the dam site.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Nam Hong said health officers were trying to determine if the

virus was a new or mutated strain because of the high number of fatalities.

“I have issued a directive to isolate the entire area.

Tan Sri Dr George Chan
“Movement of people out of the area is prohibited and those going in will be restricted.

“Medical officers have been sent to the region to enforce the quarantine and vaccinate those living in the area,” he said.

Dr Chan, who is the state Disaster Relief Committee chairman, said the virus could have started from an Iban woman who married a Penan and moved to Sungai Urun.

Dr Chan said he was very worried that the virus could be a mutated strain of measles.

“The Penan settlement in the Bakun region is in virgin territory, never before exposed to such diseases. Perhaps, that is why the effect is so bad,” he noted.

Asked if the state health authorities could deal with the outbreak, he said outside help would be called if needed.

In Petaling Jaya, Health Ministry disease control director Dr Ramlee Rahmat said tests to confirm the strain of the measles were being conducted at the Public Health laboratory in Sungai Buloh.

“If the results revealed that it is a new strain, the ministry will send a team to Sarawak to assist in the quarantine and investigation.

“We have not sent a team yet because we are confident that the state can handle the situation.”

Dr Ramlee said the large number of children killed was due to their low resistance level as the Penans had never been exposed to the virus.

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