Jakarta. Three residents of Pekanbaru, Riau were placed in quarantine because they showed symptoms of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after two men died, likely from the infection, in Denpasar, Bali and Medan, North Sumatra.
“It’s true, there are residents who are suspected to have MERS,” Riau Health Agency head Zainal Arifin said, as quoted by the state-run Antara News Agency on Wednesday. “They’ve just returned from the minor hajj and have MERS indicators.”
The virus is similar to the one that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in China between 2002 and 2003, killing some 800 people. It was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Saudi Arabia is a nightmare for epidemiologists because hajj pilgrims travel there, spend time in dense crowds, and disperse back to the far corners of the world with the potential to carry infections home. Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians make the journey each year.
The Indonesian government has urged the pious to postpone their pilgrimages until the extent of the outbreak is better understood.
Pulmonologist Azizman Saad, who treated two of the quarantined patients at Awal Bros hospital in Riau, said that they had high fevers and difficulty breathing.
“In the latest examination, the condition of the patients had improved and the fevers had dropped,” he said.
He said throat swabs and blood samples were undergoing tests at a Healthy Ministry laboratory.
“Today we’ve just sent the samples to Jakarta, so there’s no confirmation that the three are positive for MERS,” he said.
A man who died in Medan, North Sumatera on Sunday after returning from Saudi Arabia was likely the country’s first victim of the virus, a health official said on Tuesday.
The man’s family refused to allow doctors to take a saliva sample to test for the virus.
A second possible victim died in Bali on Wednesday morning, also after returning from Saudi Arabia.
The 50-year-old Nusa Dua resident, identified as A.S., passed away twelve hours after he was admitted to Sangha Hospital in Denpasar.
“The patient was treated for 12 hours and he did not survive,” Sanglah Hospital medical support team head Ken Wirasandhi told the Jakarta Globe.
The man sought treatment at Surya Husada hospital on Tuesday after he experienced breathing difficulties and coughing. His family said he had just returned from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Ken said the patient suffered from chronic lung disease but that MERS might still have been the cause of death.
“We treated him as a suspected [MERS patient] because of his travel history,” he said, adding that the patient had been placed in quarantine.
The hospital had been through two previous MERS scares — a local resident and a Saudi Arabian tourist — but both tested negative, Ken said.
A.S.’s test results have not come in yet.