Rats posing a serious problem in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - The population of rats in the country has grown into a serious problem for cities and residential areas, as reflected by the alarming rise in cases of leptospirosis, commonly known as "rat urine disease".

The highly infectious bacterial disease spreads via the urine of infected rats and causes death in severe cases.

The Health Ministry's disease control division recorded 3,665 leptospirosis cases last year, a whopping 85.5 per cent increase from the 1,976 cases recorded in 2010, with 69 deaths. In 2011, there were 2,268 cases with 55 deaths.

Despite the sharp rise in cases, the death rate continued to decline in 2012 with 48 deaths recorded.

The Health Ministry's disease control division's director Dr Chong Chee Kheong said the number of cases detected and reduced death rate also reflects the degree of awareness among the public and medical fraternity about the disease.

"Early detection is vital in treating this curable disease," he told The Star yesterday.

He attributed the sudden spike in cases to the Government's decision to make it mandatory for private hospitals to report cases of the disease.

Leptospirosis was classified as a notifiable disease on Dec 9, 2010, under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.

Dr Chong said unhygienic surroundings might contributed to the increase in cases.

He urged the authorities and the people to work together to create clean public environments to prevent the growing numbers of disease-carrying vermin.

"Public areas must be kept hygienic at all times. Drains must not be clogged and rubbish must be disposed of properly.

"Civic-mindedness is also needed from the community. People cannot keep expecting the authorities to clean up after them," he said.

He said the most common way of contracting the food and water-borne disease, was through ingestion although it could also be spread through open wounds.

Dr Chong said markets and hawker centres would attract rats if rubbish is not disposed properly.

As for camping sites and recreational areas, he said the urine and faeces of rats would get washed into ponds, lakes, and waterfalls when it rained.

He also warned that drinking directly from cans could also infect people, as there could be dried rat urine on the top of canned drinks. He advised people to rinse the cans with water first.

Dr Chong stressed that food handlers must be hygienic, have their vaccine shots updated and ensure proper food preparation and waste disposal.

Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan said he was appalled by the rampant rise in the numbers of rats in towns and cities.

He said he would raise the matter of cleanliness in public areas with waste management companies like Alam Flora, SWM Environment and E-Idaman.

Abdul Rahman said illegal hawkers and food stall owners who left waste irresponsibly by the roadside were the biggest problem and urged local authorities to take firm action against them.

He said while the ministry would work closely with the local councils to make the cities more liveable, the task of cleaning up towns and cities should include the public.

"Civic consciousness is still lacking, with cleanliness in public areas leaving much to be desired despite Malaysia having some of the best infrastructure.

"But there are sparks of hope. School children have been very receptive to our programmes on recycling and maintaining cleanliness.

"Hopefully, they will grow up into becoming a civic conscious generation," he added.

By Isabelle Lai, Wong Pek Mei, Mohd Farhaan Shah, Edward Henry, Zieman