Penang boy believed to have caught disease while camping

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia - A new Japanese Encephalitis (JE) case has been detected in Penang after a 12-year-old boy was admitted to a private hospital here.

Year Six schoolboy Muhammad Ammar Muqrish Zulkifli from SK Kampung Selamat in Tasek Gelugor, Butterworth, was believed to have contracted the disease while on a camp programme organised by the school at its premises in April.

The boy, who has been in a semi-conscious state for about a month now, was first diagnosed with the disease on June 27 after a second round of blood tests.

Penang Health Department director Datuk Dr Lailanor Ibrahim confirmed the matter and said the boy was now in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

"We received his medical report and a test on the boy's spinal fluid carried out by the hospital found that it was JE positive.

"We will run a thorough check, including carrying out interviews and health examinations on the patient's family members and friends as well as checking at his school to find out how he could have been infected with the virus," he said.

Dr Lailanor added that a special committee had been set up to conduct investigations and prepare a complete report on the case which would then be submitted to the Health Ministry.

Asked if this was the first reported case since the major outbreak in 1998, he said there had been sporadic occurrences over the past few years.

The last reported cases were of a teen who fell ill in Kuala Pilah in 2012 and an 11-year-old who came down with fever in 2007.

According to Hasimah Ayob, 34, her nephew was admitted to the Kepala Batas Hospital for four days from May 18 but he was not diagnosed with JE.

"The doctors thought he was suffering from hysteria and kept sedating him. On May 21, he was transferred to a private hospital where he stayed until June 17.

"We took him home but he relapsed, and had to be re-admitted on June 26. His blood sample, which was earlier obtained, came back positive as JE," she said at the private hospital in Bayan Baru here.

Hasimah added that his family was told that there was a possibility the boy will not be able to speak and could be paralysed for the rest of his life.

"I hope the Health Ministry will take the necessary action to prevent other children from catching the disease for which there is no cure. There is a vaccine.

"All we can do now is to hope that his antibodies are strong enough to fight the virus alongside getting medical treatment to stabilise his condition," she said.

Hasimah said the boy's medical bills had risen to almost RM100,000 (S$40,000) since he was admitted to the private hospital, adding that his family was considering legal action against the Kepala Batas Hospital for failing to properly diagnose and treat Muhammad Amar.

Meanwhile, State Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin in a statement said the State Veterinary Department has started to monitor the pig population in the area.

"In light of this, precautions must be taken. The public must seek treatment from the hospital in the event of continuous fever, headache, nausea and vomiting."

JE is a disease which spreads from domestic pigs to humans through its vector, the Culex mosquito.