A heart patient from Oman has been confirmed as the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome [MERS] in Thailand.
“From two lab tests we can confirm that the MERS virus has been found,” Public Health Minister Dr. Rajata Rajatanavin told a news conference in Bangkok.
The patient is a businessman from Oman, said Rajata, adding that the 75-year-old had traveled to Thailand for medical treatment for a heart condition.
A doctor at Bumrungrad International Hospital suspected the man might have MERS because he was from overseas, had a respiratory complaint, and a low fever, officials told VOA News.
Fifty-nine other people are being monitored for the virus either at hospitals or homes: passengers who sat two rows in front or behind the Omani man on his flight to Bangkok, health care workers, hotel employees and a taxi driver, according to Thanarath Phalipat, the director of the health ministry’s bureau of epidemiology
Four family members of the Omani man, who traveled with him, are quarantined in the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute where the patient is being treated, and he is reported in stable condition at the institute in Nonthaburi, just north of Bangkok, officials told VOA.
“We are in a state of containment,” Pasakorn Akarasewi, senior medical officer of the department of disease control told VOA News. “The infection occurred in Oman.”
MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China's fatal outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) 12 years ago.
The vast majority of MERS infections and deaths have been in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1,000 people have been infected since 2012, and about 454 have died.
South Korea has been hardest hit in Asia, with 23 deaths, a total of 165 infections and 6,700 people quarantined since the first confirmed case on May 20.
China and the Philippines also have reported one MERS case this year.
Earlier Thursday, the chief of the World Health Organization sounded an optimistic note that the worst likely is over in South Korea.
“The government has admitted a slow start in the early stage of the outbreak. The government is now on a very firm footing,” said Dr. Margaret Chan to reporters in Seoul. “This outbreak can be stopped, though it may take longer than anyone would want.”
The WHO declared Wednesday that MERS is not a public health emergency of international concern like Ebola, saying that no travel or trade restrictions on South Korea are needed.
An outbreak in Thailand could have a significant impact on the economy of the southeast Asian country, which is more heavily dependent on tourism than South Korea.
Public health officials late Thursday expressed confidence Thailand would not experience an outbreak similar to South Korea.
“We learned everything from Korea,” said Dr. Pasakorn.
Thailand's Disease Control Department said it is screening travelers at 67 places - including airports, harbors and land border crossings.
Any further information on the status of MERS would be released promptly, promised Dr. Pasakorn.
“Information is now is very transparent, there is no reason to delay. We are confident we can give all information that the public should know,” he said.
The announcement of the first confirmed case in Thailand came shortly after the kingdom’s prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, told reporters there was no MERS in the country yet, denying rumors of three confirmed cases.
Thailand is under control of a military junta, led by Prayuth, who as army chief in May, 2014, ousted the civilian government. Since the coup, Thailand’s media has been operating under restrictions and public criticism of the junta is not allowed.