/ 1 July 2007

Malaysian state insulted by new virus name

The Malaysian state of Melaka is upset that scientists have named a new bat-borne virus after it, news reports said on Sunday.

Australian and Malaysian scientists announced last week they had discovered a new virus likely carried by bats that can cause respiratory illness in humans. They called it the Melaka virus, using the name of the southern Malaysian state where the virus was isolated in early 2006 in a human patient.

Chief Minister Ali Rustam said on Saturday the state does not want to be associated with the virus and called the name choice ”an insult” to Melaka, which is a popular tourist destination because of its historical sites.

”Melaka is a good state, beautiful and peaceful, not the birthplace of diseases,” the Star daily quoted him as saying.

Ali said the state government will lodge a formal protest with Malaysia’s Health Ministry.

”Why not use another name, such as the doctor or scientist who discovered it?” the chief minister was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.

A spokesperson in Ali’s office could not immediately be contacted. Health Ministry officials declined to comment.

The virus was detected after the Malaysian man in Melaka developed high fever and acute respiratory illness last year, about a week after a bat entered his home and flew around in his living room. Two of his children had milder symptoms, and the entire family has since recovered.

Virus samples taken from the man and his children proved similar, and researchers found it was closely related to another virus that was isolated in the late 1990s in fruit bats, also in southern Malaysia. — Sapa-AP