Infecting The Nation

Infectious diseases are constantly making international news but do you know what’s happening here at home?

The floods in Kelantan , Perak and Terengganu at the end of last year led to a spread of infectious diseases which included leptospirosis (caused by rat’s urine). Aside from that there’s a drastic (and worrying) increase in dengue cases and on an international level, cases like Ebola and even the measles outbreak in Disneyland, are incidences that prove communicable diseases should not be taken lightly.

It’s infectious

Communicable diseases are defined as the spread of diseases from one person to another or from an animal to a person. This includes airborne or water-borne bacteria and viruses, as well as bodily fluids from human or animal. Communicable diseases exist around the globe but the presence of certain types of communicable disease is higher in some countries than others.



What is it? As of 2013, the Ministry of Health has reported 101, 672 Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) cases and 16,360 deaths. AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which weakens your immune system and destroys your cells. AIDS is classified as the final stage of HIV infection.

How can I get infected? HIV can be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen and breast milk. In rare cases, you can get infected through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

Am I at risk? Generally, you are at risk if you come in contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. For example, if you practice unprotected sex and do not have a monogamous sexual relationship, or through needles and syringes that have been used by an infected person.



What is it? According to the Ministry of Health, a total of 22,710 Tuberculosis (TB) cases were reported in 2012. Globally, WHO reports that in 2013, 9 million people were infected by TB and 1.5 million people succumbed to it. TB is caused by bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which usually affects the lungs and can be fatal. If you have TB, you will cough, develop a fever and lose weight, which persists over several months.

How can I get infected? This bacteria is air-borne, and spreads from person to person. If you have been infected by TB, you can infect up to 10 to 15 people over the course of a year.

Am I at risk? The use of tobacco greatly increases your chance of falling ill due to TB.  According to WHO, TB tends to affect young adults who are in their most productive years. Aside from that, patients with HIV have a greater risk of developing TB due to their impaired immune system.



What is it? As of January 2015, a total of 2,913 cases and eight deaths were reported for the year. Dengue fever is cause by the dengue virus, which causes symptoms like headache, fever and joint pains. There is currently no cure for dengue fever and management for this disease is vital. Dengue fever can progress to become dengue haemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, which is usually fatal.

How can I get infected? Dengue fever is a vector borne viral disease that is transmitted from human to human via the Aedes mosquito.

Am I at risk? Anyone can get infected by the dengue virus. If you are living with a person who has been infected, it is important to ensure that the infected person and the people around him do not get bitten by mosquitoes. Also, necessary preventive measures should be taken — such as ensuring there are no breeding grounds for mosquitoes, for those living in high endemic areas.



What is it? Chickenpox is caused by an infection of the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Both children and adults can get infected by chickenpox. Symptoms of chickenpox usually include red spots and blisters. If someone you know has chickenpox, it is important that the infected person stays at home until he is well. If you have had chickenpox, the chances of you getting infected again are much lower.

How can I get infected? Chickenpox is an airborne disease, which can spread when a person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread by touching or breathing in the particles from the chickenpox blisters.

Am I at risk? A person who has not been infected or vaccinated from chickenpox, will be at risk of infection. You can be diagnosed with chicken pox at any age but it is generally not a serious health problem. If you have a low immune system, you may experience complications due to the illness. This can include scarlet fever and pneumonia.



What is it? Typhoid is a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria known as Salmonella Typhi. Symptoms of typhoid fever include fever, fatigue, weakness, stomachache and loss of appetite.

How can I get infected? The bacteria are spread from human to human through fecal matter. A person is usually infected by contaminated food and drinks.

Am I at risk? Vaccine against typhoid has been made available. It is compulsory for all food and beverage handlers to be vaccinated. You should dine at restaurants that practice good hygiene and also get yourself vaccinated if you are travelling to a country where typhoid is common.


Japanese Encephalitis (JE)

What is it? WHO explains that JE is a virus which affects all age groups. It is a mosquito-borne disease, which occurs more commonly during rainy season. Encephalitis is defined as the inflammation of the brain and in severe cases,  JE can cause permanent brain damage or death. Domestic pigs and wild birds are hosts of this virus.

How can I get infected? JE cannot spread directly from human to human,but you can get the virus if you have been bitten by an infected mosquito.

Am I at risk? The risk for JE is relatively low. As of June 2014, 16 JE cases were reported by the Ministry of Health in Malaysia for the first half of the year. Out of the 16, four cases were fatal. If you are travelling to areas that have reported higher incidences of this disease, such as Sarawak, you should speak to your health care provider about vaccination one and a half to two months before you travel.

Just like any other disease, infectious diseases should not be taken lightly. Be a responsible Malaysian, seek medical help and take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of an infectious disease. Also, as a precautionary step, speak to your doctor about how you can prevent your family and your loved ones from contracting these diseases.


Simian malaria

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease, which is caused by parasites that belong to the genus Plamodium. Symptoms of this disease include fever and chills. Plasmodium Knowlesi, a parasite found in monkeys, is now known to be the cause for almost half of the malaria cases in certain parts of Malaysia. Urban Health speaks to Senior Research Fellow from the Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine at University of Malaya, Datin Dr. Indra A/P Vythilingam, about this parasite.

UH: What is Plasmodium Knowlesi (PK)?

Dr. Indra: Plasmodium Knowlesi is a simian malaria parasite present in monkeys. The 1st human case was reported in 1965 from Pahang. The 2nd suspected case was from Johor. Then a large focus was reported from Kapit, Sarawak in 2004. Now it forms 38% of the cases in Malaysia and is present in all states with the exception of Perlis.

UH: Which states in Malaysia have higher incidences of malaria caused by PK?

Dr. Indra: Currently Sabah and Sarawak have the most number of cases. According to Annual report of MOH 2013, 47% of cases are now PK.

UH: What is your advice to Malaysia on protecting themselves from being infected?

Dr. Indra: Inform your doctors if you are travelling to an area that has high numbers of malaria cases. For example, many enjoy exploring the jungle and so on, which are places that are more prone to malaria. At the same time, the Ministry of Health is also working towards the elimination of malaria.


Disease of the past

Did you know that, as of the year 2000, Malaysia has successfully eradicated Polio in the country? Thanks to the polio vaccine, this incurable disease is now a disease of the past in our nation. Here are some details about the disease:

Poliomyelitis (Polio)

What is it? A disease caused by a virus, which affects the nervous system. If a person has been infected by the virus, it can cause paralysis within a matter of hours. Among Polio patients who have been paralysed, about five to ten percent of them will die when their breathing muscles stop working.

How can I get infected? Polio is transmitted from human to human via the oral-fecal route. This includes consuming contaminated water and food.

Am I at risk? The polio vaccine is compulsory for all children in Malaysia and it is important for parents to adhere to the National Immunisation Programme to ensure that polio remains a disease of the past. However, around the world, in countries  ike Pakistan and Nigeria, there are still reports of polio. Hence, parents should be vigilant, as those travelling to and from such countries can be infected with polio.

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