Another toddler contracts Japanese encephalitis in Malaysia

PHOTO: Another toddler contracts Japanese encephalitis in Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA - Another Japanese encephalitis (JE) case involving a 29-month-old female toddler has been confirmed in Penang, bringing the total number of cases this year to 17, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subrama­niam.

Speaking at a press conference here yesterday together with Dr Subramaniam, Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the girl suffered from fever and fits on June 12, and was initially admitted to the Seberang Jaya Hospital before being transferred to the Penang Hospital.

Prior to this, the last case was confirmed on June 27 involving 12-year-old Muhammad Ammar Muqrish, who is believed to have contracted JE while attending a camp organised by his school, SK Kampung Selamat, at its premi­ses in April.

However, Dr Noor Hisham said the two cases were deemed sporadic and did not constitute an outbreak.

Dr Subramaniam said that the ministry was liaising with the Department of Veterinary Services to find the source of the JE virus in Penang, which could come from anything ranging from pigs, horses or even birds.

Animals harbouring the virus can be asymptomatic, and the most likely route of transmission is when a mosquito, typically the Culex, bites a human or animal after feeding on an infected host.

"The efforts that need to be taken are similar to those taken for dengue prevention, which is to remove stagnant water and clean up breeding grounds," he said.

Dr Subramaniam also issued a statement yesterday saying the ministry had carried out measures to control the situation, namely case identification, fogging, clearing of mosquito breeding grounds and health education within a 2km radius of the school and the patient's home, including the nearby pig farms.

He said 715 students at Muhammad Am­­mar's school and 1,066 students from a nearby secondary school had been examined and none of them showed any symptoms of JE, while 301 residents in the surrounding areas were also free of symptoms.

He said fogging, clearing of breeding grounds and larvicide covered 476 premises and information on JE had been disseminated to residents, including through the distribution of brochures.

Penang's state health committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said the state Veterinary De­partment had started taking blood samples from pigs in the 19 pig farms located within a 1.5km radius of SK Kampung Selamat.

Principal of SK Kampung Selamat, Hawa Mat Yazid, said the school had already orga­nised talks for the pupils on the disease as a means of prevention.

"This incident happened without any warning and it is out of our control. The best we can do is to raise awareness through education," said Hawa when contacted yesterday, adding that the Health Department had carried out fogging in the school area.

When contacted yesterday, Muhammad Am­­mar's father Zulkiffli Danial, 45, said his son's condition remained the same.

"When he is sleeping, everything is all right but when he is awake, he will have occasional seizures," said Zulkiffli.

A check at Kampung Selamat showed most residents were worried.

Hasnah Harun, 54, urged the authorities, especially the Health Ministry, to monitor the village closely.

"Sometimes, there is a bad stench from the pig farms nearby. In my opinion, pig farming should not be carried out, especially near housing areas, to prevent diseases from spreading," said the kuih seller, who has been living in Kampung Selamat for more than 20 years.

Nabilah Nordin, 24, who works in the agriculture products collection centre nearby, is worried as there are lots of mosquitoes in the area.

"I hope that the Health Department will conduct fogging frequently," said Nabilah.