Malaysia confirms 18 diphtheria cases, three fatalities

Malaysia has recorded and confirmed 18 cases of diphtheria in the country so far, with three deaths caused by the infection.

Health director-general Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah said the number of deaths reflected a decline when compared to last year, with 23 cases and five deaths.

“Deaths due to the disease among foreigners also showed a decline, with two deaths out of five foreigners last year compared to only one death this year,” he said in a statement.

The one death involved a 9-year-old foreign boy, who did not have the complete Diphtheria immunisation required for his age, said Dr. Noor Hisham.

“The case was treated at Duchess of Kent Hospital in Sandakan on July 21, whereby a white membrane was found in his throat. The boy was given 10 vials of Diphtheria anti-toxin including antibiotics, but he died on July 26,” he added.

Dr. Noor Hisham said the second culture test on the deceased throat swab and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) toxigenic test showed positive results for Corynebacterium Diphtheria bacteria.

Therefore, the state Health Department, he added, has set up an operations room to monitor and coordinate prevention activities to be carried out in Sandakan, he added.

Dr. Noor Hisham said the Corynebacterium Diphtheria bacteria is spread through respiratory droplets and infects the throat (tonsils and pharynx).

“It produces toxins that cause inflammation around the throat. It also causes neck swelling and difficulties in breathing. This toxin also absorbs into the blood, disabling nerves which could lead to heart inflammation (myocarditis),” he added.

The ministry, he said, urged that a complete protocol of Diphtheria immunisation could prevent the infection of the bacteria.

“If one is diagnosed with the disease even after receiving immunisation, the infection would be mild, without serious complications. Therefore, parents are advised to make sure their children receive complete immunisation,” he said.

Diphtheria immunisation is given in a five-vaccination series to children at 2 months, 3 months, 5 months and 18 months, with the final dose being given at the age of 7 years.

The first four doses are available at government hospitals and clinics, while the last is given in schools.

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