Two foreign siblings – reported to have contracted whooping cough (pertussis) in Keningau, Sabah – have been placed in isolation, announced Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam. The siblings are two years old and seven months old, respectively. He added that, on top of isolating the siblings for two weeks, health authorities would conduct immunisation tests in the affected area.

Children who contacted the infection had never been immunised

“We will test the immunisation status of the people around there and ensure that all of them are vaccinated. We also ensure that these (infected) children are being isolated, so that they don’t spread to others until we are confident that the risk of spreading will not be there,” asserted Subramaniam.

“This will usually take not more than two weeks,” added Subramaniam, after solemnising the foundation stone laying ceremony of Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil (SJKT) Heawood, in Sungai Siput, last week.

Prior to this, Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah commented on the state of the non-Malaysian siblings as well. According to him, the siblings – who were receiving treatment at the Keningau Hospital – had never received their whooping cough immunisations.

Viral health department memo sends the public into a frenzy

President of Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), Dr N Thiyagar said some vaccines wear off as children grow older. He added that teenagers in some countries have been encouraged to take vaccinations for the cough.

“We especially encourage teenagers and the elderly to be vaccinated, so they don’t become a source of infection for young children,” advised Thiyagar. “The elderly are also encouraged to get the jab because their immune system would have weakened and make them susceptible to various infectious diseases, including pertussis,” he elaborated.

In Thiyagar’s personal experience, most pertussis cases were among babies who were too young to be immunised. The majority of cases are also made up of babies who fail to complete the three-dose regime when they catch the infection.

An internal circular from the Keningau Health Office to the Health Department went viral on 4 August. It requested that a pertussis outbreak be declared after the detected cases. This leaked memo largely sparked anxiety amongst the Malaysian society. At that time, State Health director Dr Christina Rundi, neither denied nor confirmed the matter. She merely stated that the internal circular was not meant for the public eye.

The internal circular from the Keningau Health Office to the Sabah Health Department sparked anxiety amongst the public. Photo credit: The Malaysian Insight
The internal circular from the Keningau Health Office to the Sabah Health Department sparked anxiety amongst the public. Photo credit: The Malaysian Insight

Noor Hisham advised the public to stay calm as the incident in Sabah was remote. “The State Health Department has stepped up prevention and control by visiting their homes and giving immunisation to the children,” he said.

Noor Hisham explained that the bacterium, Bordetella pertussis, causes whooping cough. This airborne infection, subsequently, causes inflammation of the mouth, nose and throat. It has the potential to infect every individual, but children who are not fully immunised are more prone to contracting this infection. MIMS

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