Nipah Encephalitis Investigating Team : Professor Dato’ Dr Tan Chong Tin

20 years ago, a virus outbreak destroyed the hard work of several generations in Bukit Pelanduk, reaping the lives of over 100 swine farmers and their families within three short months. The government then declared curfews and evacuated villagers from the stricken region, taking swift actions to contain the epidemic. Professor Dato’ Dr Tan Chong Tin led an investigating team from University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) to scrutinize and analyze the afflicted. Later on, the virus was proven to be a new type of mutating virus which mainly infects the lungs and brain of patients, previously misdiagnosed as Japanese Encephalitis (JE), therefore it was named Nipah Virus after the place where the first case originated.

In early 1999 during the rapid spread of Nipah virus, more than 100 patients from Bukit Pelanduk and Kampung Baru Sungai Nipah who seemed to suffer from acute encephalitis were hospitalized at UMMC. During clinical treatment, as a neurologist Dr Tan found out that the disease transmission was different from JE, hence he directed the medical team to perform an in-depth study. There is no overnight success in the research field, after 2-3 weeks of observation, the medical team finally shed some light on the new virus. Working under tremendous pressure, the medical team carried out various tests during the intense virus outbreak, attempting to find out effective treatment and prevention methods. Frontline medical personnel also had to bear the risks and fears of being in contact with patients, in the face of unprecedented and unknown virus, it was immensely stressful to be doing extensive first-hand research.

Newly discovered worldwide, there was no prior reference for Nipah virus. Its etiology, symptoms, transmission, hazards, and treatment were inconceivable. Under Dr Tan’s guidance, the UMMC investigating team made a ground-breaking revelation that the Nipah virus derived from livestock —— SARS coronavirus in bats. Due to cross-species mutation, the virus easily defeats the human body’s immune system, infections occur with rapid onset, finally spreading among humans.

The UMMC investigating team did a comprehensive study on Nipah virus, the results of their research benefited countries such as Bangladesh and India where Nipah virus outbreaks happened. As a tool to assist in diagnosis, they could then accurately administer medicine and take precautionary measures. This investigating team led by Dr Tan won the Mahathir Science Award in 2006, as well as the Merdeka Award for Health, Science, and Technology in 2008, accomplishing prestigious honours. Since the outbreak till having gained recognition, Dr Tan and team did not cease their efforts in research. Apart from returning to the village to check on villagers who recovered from the epidemic, they also contributed and joined in research in other afflicted countries.

A few months ago, Dr Tan and doctors from his medical team attended <Nipah Virus 20th Anniversary Review and Sharing Session with Experts> held last year, recounting past incidents and disclosing follow-up research to increase public awareness and understanding of the virus. In the same year, Dr Tan received the title of Emeritus Professor from University Malaya and the 6th Tan Kah Kee Award, also the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Malaysian Society of Neurosciences in 2017. Dr Tan’s contributions in medical and cultural fields are acknowledged, concurrently he is active in promoting the rich culture and history of the local Chinese community.

At present, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates and spreads widely, with confirmed cases across all continents globally, severely affecting our daily lives and even the world’s economy. In today’s globalization and high population mobility, not only does it escalate the infection rate of the virus, it also largely increases the difficulty of prevention.

Only with enhanced personal alertness and hygiene practice, ruling out unverified news among the flood of information, ensuring accurate intelligence is obtained from official or authoritative channels. Besides, gain basic understanding of the virus to avoid believing in alarmist talk and eliminate unnecessary worries. Dr Tan also reminds that apart from getting treatment, attention and aid must be given to both physical and psychological health of the patients’ family members. Together we weather the storm through mutual support and encouragement.

【Official and Authoritative Information Channels】
Ministry of Health of Malaysia
Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia

World Health Organization(WHO)

Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen

有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Evon Pang
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : Sean Beeson


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