Whats in a name, one might rhetorically ask. But Malaccan state authorities have made furious protests over the naming of a bat virus after their region. And now the virus will carry some other innocuous name.
Australian and Malaysian scientists announced last week they 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.
It causes an illness with similar respiratory symptoms to deadly avian flu. Dr Linfa Wang, a molecular virologist from Geelong, Victoria, had said "So far, we don't have evidence that it is fatal, but it causes severe respiratory distress."
The Melaka virus represents a new trend of infectious diseases coming from animals, known as zoonotic viruses, it was stated.
But Chief Minister Ali Rustam of Malacca was not amused. He made it clear that the state would 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 would 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.
Subsequently the country's Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek announced the virus would be given a new name, according to the list of guidelines drafted by an international committee.
However, he said the new name has yet to be determined.
"We may name it according to the place where the patient infected with the virus is from,'' said Dr Chua.
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.