Nipah virus outbreak memorialised in museum

PORT DICKSON: The Nipah virus outbreak, which killed more than 100 people, will be recorded as part of the state’s history with the setting up of a museum here.

Work is nearing completion and the museum is expected to be opened to the public in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Bukit Pelanduk, about 24km from here.

Called the Sungai Nipah Time Tunnel Museum, it will take visitors back in time to learn more about the history of the village, which was previously one of the largest pig farming areas in the country.

Nicknamed “Ang Chu Kia”, which means “red houses”, the village made headlines due to the outbreak.

The deadly virus was named after the village as it was first identified here in 1998.

“It is meaningful to have this episode recorded, although it was a tragedy.

“The outbreak has had a huge impact on our village, but after two decades, the younger generation may not have any idea about it,” said museum manager Pau Jeou Ching.

“Nearly a million pigs were culled. The pig farms here were all shut down.

“Some of the farms were turned into oil palm plantations,” Pau said, who himself is a survivor.

Pau said he was hospitalised for 10 days, and has fully recovered since.

“But several victims have lost their normal functions and are absent-minded at times,” said Pau, who was 14 then.

His father Pau Ee Loong was one of the unlucky ones. He died at the age of 51 due to the infection.

“A tissue sample of my father’s brain was taken to the United States.

“The research team later found out it was not Japanese encephalitis (JE).

“The discovery of the Nipah virus was a turning point. If not, there could have been more deaths,” he said, adding that initially, the outbreak was thought to be JE and carried by mosquitoes.

“We wore long-sleeved shirts, applied mosquito repellent all over our body. But still, there were people dying,” said villager Lau Ah Chiew, 57.

“When the research team found that it was not JE, and that this virus spread directly from pigs to humans, the task force came up with the solution to cull the infected pigs.

“After thousands of pigs were culled, the infection was brought under control,” he added.

The D-day for all the pigs to be culled was on March 20, 1999.

Lau was one of the few villagers who stayed back.

“The stench of dead pigs was unbearable. Many left, turning the village into a ghost town,” he said.

The outbreak caused the collapse of the billion-ringgit pig-farming industry here.

Pau’s and Lau’s stories have been filmed in a documentary, which will be shown at the museum.

Tools for pig farming will also be exhibited, as well as the culture and history of the village.

The museum, the brainchild of Negri Sembilan MCA chairman Datuk Seri Dr Lim Chin Fui, is part of his plan to develop village tourism here.

“It was a painful, a dark episode for villagers, but it is a history worth telling the younger generation,” Dr Lim said.

“Pig farmers lost their livelihoods. Some have turned to oil palm and cempedak cultivation.

“With this museum and other plans such as 3D mural art and a wishing tree, we hope more tourists will come,” he said, adding that the village was once named “best-managed new village” in the country.

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