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Last updated: 02 Apr 2000

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How the Nipah Virus Affects Singapore and Malaysia.

The outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus occurred one year ago.  People affected are those who work in the pig industry, particularly pig farmers.  It is believed that fruit bats were the transmitter of the virus and that the urine of the infected pig is contagious.  Abbattoir workers who slapped the pig's backside to get the pigs into the pens for slaughter are the ones affected in Singapore.

Diagnosis is by scanning of the brain and spinal cord as well as by blood tests for the virus and its antibodies.

The Nipah virus is very close to the Australian Hendra virus. In Australia, a patient who recovered had a relapse 13 months later and died and there may be similarities with the Nipah virus here.

Dr Tchoyoson Lim, an associate consultant in Malaysia, said: "We have absolutely no idea how this disease is going to go. Nobody knows anything about it.  If it behaves like the Australian disease, then there is danger of a possible relapse."

Dr Lim said he would like to monitor those infected for 18 months, in case the disease follows the pattern of the Hendra virus.

Malaysia has seen about a dozen cases of possible relapse from the Nipah virus between the middle of last year and early this year. One woman in her 30s has died. During the outbreak, 15 people here were infected, one of whom died.

The six still affected by the virus complain of problems ranging from lethargy to the need for help to do daily chores. But their brain patterns appear to have improved.

It all started in late 1998 with a few cases of suspected Japanese encephalitis in Malaysia. It became an epidemic in March last year and affected over a dozen workers here.

The virus, carried by pigs, led to the slaughter of about a million pigs. The army was called in to shoot the pigs but later, the soldiers ceased being involved.

In Malaysia, of the 265 people infected by the virus, 105 died.

Singapore banned the import of pigs and pork products from Malaysia and shut abattoirs here in March last year. The abattoirs have re-opened, but the ban on the import of pigs and pork products from Malaysia remains.

Primary Production Department spokesman Goh Shih Yong said the ban continues "because Malaysia has not declared itself free from the Nipah virus".

Racehorses from Malaysia were prohibited from coming to Singapore to race for the last 12 months.  This disease caused a reduction in the number of runners and of course, revenue generated.  Those horses which had been tested to be free from Nipah virus are believed to be allowed to return to Singapore as at April 2, 2000.

In Singapore, the wet market (non-air conditioned open stalls) selling fresh pork had lost a considerable amount of business as the Singapore abbattoir has no imports of pigs for slaughter for the last year.  Stall holders have to install chillers now and many have found this requirement to be expensive.

More pork is imported from Australia and other countries.  Some months ago, the newspaper reported one attempt to smuggle a large amount of pork from Malaysia to Singapore.  The smugglers were caught.

It is really terrible that one virus can affect so many people economically.   Singapore does not have pig farming more than 10 years ago and therefore, the people affected will be abbattoir workers.  Pigs are imported from Indonesia as well as from Malaysia (before the ban) as the locals like to consume  "fresh pork" which arrives from the abbattoir early in the morning as slaughter commences the night before.  In Western countries,  pork is sold as "chilled pork" which may be the main source of pork for the Singaporeans in the years to come .

The Straits Times, April 1, 2000.


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