False Alarm: Suspected Sabah Coronavirus Case Actually Flu

Lab test results showed that the patient had Influenza A, and not 2019-nCoV.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 — A Chinese national in Sabah tested negative for a new respiratory virus from Wuhan, China, that the teenage boy was suspected of contracting, health authorities said.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said lab test results carried out by the Institute of Medical Research showed that the patient was not infected with the novel coronavirus, provisionally called 2019-nCoV.

“His symptoms were due to Influenza A,” he said in a brief statement last night. “He has now recovered and is in stable condition.”

Three other people in Malaysia suspected to be infected with 2019-nCoV have also tested negative for the virus that has killed 25 people in China and infected over 800 people worldwide. These negative cases were located in Selangor and Sabah.

When contacted, Dr Noor Hisham told CodeBlue that the case that turned out to be Influenza A was a 16-year-old male Chinese national, who was on holiday with his family in Sabah. He later received treatment at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the state.

The other initially suspected case in Sabah was a five-year-old boy of Jordan nationality, who was also on vacation with his parents, Dr Noor Hisham said. His parents are pursuing their PhDs at Hua Zhong University in Wuhan.

The remaining two initially suspected cases in Selangor were a 30-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman, both Malaysians who had a history of traveling to China.

All patients have been discharged from hospital after receiving treatment, except for the 16-year-old Chinese national, who is still being treated and in stable condition.

Thermal screening operation at all international entry points in the country by the Ministry of Health (MOH), with those arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) with fever being placed at the KLIA Health Quarantine Centre before being taken to Sungai Buloh Hospital for further action. Similar efforts are in place in government hospitals and clinics.

Suspected cases of 2019-nCoV, as it is now known, detected at any health facility are to be reported immediately to the district health office, state health department, and the national Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre. Twenty-six MOH hospitals nationwide have been identified to handle suspected coronavirus cases.

Cases of the coronavirus have also been reported in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Shanghai, Beijing, Macau and Hong Kong, with potential cases being investigated in Mexico, the Philippines, and Australia. Neighbouring Singapore confirmed one case last night.

As of 10am today, 25 deaths have been reported over the Wuhan coronavirus, from 17 previously. One death was reported in northern China’s Hebei province, while 24 were recorded in central Hubei province, where Wuhan is its provincial capital, reports said.

International agencies today quoted China’s national health commission as saying that the number of confirmed cases has leapt to 830 from around 600 previously, while 1,072 suspected cases of the virus are being examined by authorities.

Wuhan is currently under lockdown, with outbound flights and public transport services in the central Chinese city of 11 million people shut down indefinitely. Restrictions on public gatherings have also been enforced in Wuhan and in several nearby cities. Planned holiday activities have been banned in Hong Kong and Beijing, and the Forbidden City will be temporarily closed.

This comes ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday this weekend, China’s busiest travel season, with a number of international stories reporting anger and anxiety among worried residents and medical workers. Some Chinese news outlets reportedly did not feature the crisis, and if it did, it only did so in footnotes on newscasts.

The Wuhan coronavirus could be caused by a newly emerging member of the family of viruses that caused the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that infected over 8,000 people and killed almost 800 in 2003 worldwide. Bats and civets are believed to have spawned the SARS outbreak. The Wuhan outbreak has been linked to a seafood market that sells live animals ranging from snakes to rats.

Chinese officials have been quoted as saying that the Wuhan virus may have originated in wild animals, widely believed to be snakes, sold at a food emporium, which has since been closed. Some international cases, as well as early sufferers of the virus, were reported to have frequented the Huanan Seafood Market.

The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday said it is too early to classify the current outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus as a public health emergency of international concern, which it does for unusual and serious public health events that have the potential to spread diseases globally.

Correction note: CodeBlue wrongly reported that the suspected coronavirus case from Sabah, which turned out to be the flu, was a woman. It was a male. The story has been corrected.

Update at 12.55pm: After speaking to Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, CodeBlue added details about the four initially suspected coronavirus cases in Malaysia that later tested negative for the virus.

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