- ATLANTA (Reuters) - U.S. health researchers said Thursday the death
toll has risen to 117 in Malaysia and Singapore from an epidemic largely
caused by a newly detected virus transmitted by pigs.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) said the virus, similar to the Hendra virus that caused illness among
people and horses in Australia in 1994 and 1995, is responsible for most
of the encephalitic illnesses of 247 people in Malaysia and Singapore since
- In Malaysia, 236 people have been sickened
and 116 of them have died, said Dr. Pierre Rollin of the CDC's Special
Pathogens Branch. Most of the cases have involved men who have had contact
- In addition, there have been 11 cases
of encephalitic and respiratory illnesses, one of them fatal, among abattoir
workers in Singapore who handled pigs imported from Malaysia, he said.
- CDC researchers said the previously unrecognized
virus is similar, but not identical, to the Hendra virus that killed 15
racehorses and a human trainer in two different outbreaks in Queensland,
- Researchers believe the Hendra virus,
named after the Brisbane suburb where it was first identified in 1994,
is carried by fruit bats, which do not become ill, but transmit the virus
to humans, horses and other animals.
- Experts are unsure of specific routes
of transmission of the new virus, but it appears that people become infected
by contact with sick swine.
- ``There is, as far as we know, no human-to-human
transmission,'' Rollin said.
- Malaysian authorities initially blamed
the illnesses on an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis harbored in pigs.
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain.
- Researchers are trying to analyze samples
from as many victims as possible, Rollin said.
- ``At the beginning of the outbreak, there
were clearly some Japanese encephalitis cases, but it doesn't seem to be
the case any more. All the recent ones seem to be due to this Hendra-like
virus,'' he said.
- The U.S. government has imposed no travel
restrictions to Singapore or Malaysia as a result of the outbreak.
- ``The risk is mainly if you are in contact
with pigs. If you go there for vacation or work-related travel, there
is no risk at all,'' he said.
- Researchers said the virus can cause
fever and headache for as long as two weeks, followed by drowsiness and
disorientation that can progress to a coma within a day or two. No cases
of the illness have been reported among health workers caring for those
who have been infected.
- In some cases, illness in pigs occurred
a week or two before illnesses in humans, the CDC said.
- The CDC has six staff researchers in
Malaysia and two in Singapore aiding local health authorities in the investigation,