Lack of screening may be cause of typhoid outbreak in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR - Illegal immigrants working as food handlers in the city are being looked at as the possible cause for the rise in typhoid cases here.

The disease, which is more commonly seen in rural areas, has seen a spike in the city with 32 cases reported since August.

"The problem may lie with illegal workers who are not medically screened at all and they may be carriers of the disease," Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya said.

He said that while foreign workers had to undergo Fomema medical screening before being certified for employment, illegal workers were not subjected to compulsory anti-typhoid injections.

"We are still investigating to determine the source and carriers of the disease," he said at Parliament lobby yesterday.

Dr Hilmi said there was a mix of locals and foreigners who had contracted the disease.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) meanwhile has been giving local and foreign food handlers - with or without documentation, - typhoid injections to stop the spread of the disease, its health and environment department director Dr Hayati Abdullah said.

DBKL had also set up counters for workers to get typhoid injections in selected areas.

"In places where there are more than 40 workers who need the shots, we will send a team to handle it. This includes places like hotels and areas with clusters of restaurants and stalls," she said.

"We will continue with the immunisation exercise in addition to our usual operations at food outlets in the city," she said.

Dr Hayati said those handling food were required to undergo typhoid immunisation under the Food Handlers Bylaws of 1979.

"Typhoid injections are compulsory for those dealing with food. They only have to get a shot once every three years," she said, adding it only cost RM21 per injection.

Dr Hayati said those who fail to comply would be fined.

Selangor health, welfare, women and family affairs executive councillor Dr Daroyah Alwi stressed the importance of one simple practice for workers involved in food preparation at all eateries - washing their hands with liquid soap after using the washroom - as a prevention against water borne diseases such as typhoid.

"It is the most effective and inexpensive method to prevent diseases," Dr Daroyah said.

Petaling Jaya City Council health and environment department director Dr Chitra Davi N. Vadivellu said the council's health inspectors had been told to heighten their checks at all eateries.