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New Sars-like virus threat to pilgrims from Mecca

Thais returning home will be under medical observation for 10 days

Thais returning from Saudi Arabia may have to stay on a 10-day medical surveillance if they develop symptoms suspected to be of a new potentially serious disease, a novel coronavirus.

This disease has already killed a man in Saudi Arabia, and sent a Qatari man to the intensive-care unit of a hospital in London. This seriously ill man visited Saudi Arabia before coming down with the critical symptoms.

About 15,000 Thais make a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia each year.

A group of pilgrims left Hat Yai International Airport for Mecca yesterday, as Culture Minister Sukumol Kunplome wished them good luck.

These pilgrims have been accompanied by medical doctors.

"We have not yet found any other case of novel coronavirus infections," Professor Prasert Thongcharoen, adviser to the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said yesterday.

However, he believes that judging from the two cases of this disease so far, the situation looks quite dangerous.

He said this disease was in the same category as the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome |(Sars).

Prasert said the novel coronavirus affected the respiratory or gastrointestinal system of an infected subject.

"It's possible that symptoms may range from just cold-like symptoms to respiratory failure and death," he said.

DDC specialist Dr Khamnuan Ungchusak said his agency had taken measures to deal with this potentially dangerous disease.

"Doctors accompanying the hajj trip will take care of pilgrims who fall ill.

"After the pilgrims return, they will be monitored for 10 days to check whether they develop any symptoms," Khamnuan said.

He said pamphlets about this new disease in Thai, English and Arabic would be handed out to travellers coming to Thailand from the Middle East.

"We will inform private and state hospitals about this disease. If they find anyone travelling from Saudi Arabia and Qatar coming down with serious symptoms such as pneumonia, they must investigate the cause of the symptoms," he said.

Khamnuan said there was no medicine specially produced for the novel coronavirus.

"The Department of Medical Services will prepare guidelines for hospitals in treating novel-coronavirus patients to prevent the spread of the disease," he added.


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