Health, Science & Technology

A group of people standing in a grassy area

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Some members of the Nipah Encephalitis Team.

Triumph Over Nipah Virus Encephalitis
In the crucible of Malaysia's financial crisis in 1998 emerged an unforeseen adversary – a mysterious disease spreading like wildfire from pig farms in Perak to the States of Negeri Sembilan and Selangor. It struck down young, healthy men with fever and delirium, casting a pall over entire villages. Abandoned homes, army interventions and the decimation of livestock characterised the chaos. Amid this, a team from the University of Malaya's Faculty of Medicine, led by Professor Dr Tan Chong Tin, rose to confront this enigma.

A Multidisciplinary Alliance - Heroes in Action
The heroes of this medical saga included:

  • Dr Chua Kaw Bing
  • Dr Lam Sai Kit
  • Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar
  • Dr Chang Li Yen
  • Dr Sazilah Ahmad Sarji
  • Dr Norlisah Ramli
  • Dr Tan Chong Tin (Leader)
  • Dr Goh Khean Jin
  • Dr Chong Heng Thay
  • Dr Chew Nee Kong
  • Dr Tan Kay Sin
  • Dr Vimalan Ramasundram
  • Dr Wong Kum Thong
Infectious Diseases Specialist:
  • Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman
Intensive Care Specialist:
  • Dr Patrick Tan SK
The diverse expertise of the team, spanning virology, radiology, neurology, pathology, infectious diseases and intensive care, forged an academic alliance crucial for unravelling the unknown disease. The team, undeterred by their disparate backgrounds, united to combat a potential pandemic.
A doctor working on a patient in a hospital room

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Dr Patrick Tan and Professor CT Tan in an ICU unit, where they spent much time monitoring Nipah Encephalitis patients.
A few doctors working on computers

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The team's radiologists imaged and studied the virus' effects on patients.

Unravelling the Mystery and Pandemic Control
Initially thought to be Japanese Encephalitis (JE), efforts were directed towards controlling JE's spread from pigs to humans. However, disparities in symptoms and the disease's pattern raised suspicions. The team, undaunted by prevailing opinions, sought permission to examine victims' bodies, leading to the discovery of a novel virus—Nipah.

lThe Nipah investigation progressed as the team identified large Pteropus fruit bats as the virus reservoir. The El Niño weather phenomenon, pushing bats to pig farms, facilitated transmission. Hospitals, grappling with Nipah-infected patients, saw the team's collective efforts in managing cases, conducting studies and formulating preventive measures.

With the virus identified, strategies evolved, halting the epidemic by culling pigs and ceasing vaccinations. Ribavirin treatment proved successful, reducing mortality rates. The meticulous observations and research, published in prestigious journals, showcased Malaysia's triumph over the unknown.

A tree with no leaves

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A colony of Pteropus fruit bats. The team discovered that these wild fruitbats are the reservoir hosts of the virus.
Ongoing Challenges and Global Medical Impact
The Nipah Virus Encephalitis Investigation Team's accomplishments reverberated globally. Their knowledge aided in addressing Nipah outbreaks in Bangladesh and India. Invitations from the World Health Organisation underscored their expertise, emphasising the emergence of Nipah encephalitis as a global concern.

The Nipah Virus Encephalitis Investigation Team's fearless dedication and selfless pursuit of knowledge amidst danger illuminated Malaysia's medical prowess. Malaysia, through an all-Malaysian team, contributed significantly to global medical knowledge, showcasing the nation's resilience and expertise in combating emerging diseases.
A group of people wearing face masks

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Team members also served as WHO consultants for the Nipah outbreak in Bangladesh in 2004. Dr KB Chua and Prof CT Tan are standing on the right.
A group of people standing together

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Prof KT Wong visiting a village in Bangladesh with Nipah Encephalitis outbreak.

The information in this award recipient's profile is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the time the award was presented. Any subsequent changes, updates, or developments in the individual's life or achievements may not be reflected in this profile.
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