Step up dengue prevention programmes, International SOS urges

Leading security and health services company, International SOS, is encouraging organisations to be more proactive about dengue awareness and prevention as cases continue to rise and affect tens of millions of people globally.

International SOS has reported of an overall increase of 92% in dengue-related cases in 2022 –Malaysia reported over 27,900 cases in the first half of 2022 (an increase of 83.3% compared to 2021), coupled with an alarming number of deaths due to dengue fever complications in the same period.

“Dengue is an increasing problem, with more cases, outbreaks becoming larger and more common, and the disease appearing in new areas,” said Dr. Chan Yanjun, Medical Director, Singapore & Malaysia, International SOS.

“We all have a part to play to help reduce the number of cases and organisations need to be involved in mosquito control and infection prevention measures, as well as promoting and spreading dengue awareness among the community. Community empowerment is a key aspect of the strategy, as it allows the local population to drive the eradication of the disease in their environment.”

Dr. Chan recommends organisations to be involved in mosquito control and infection prevention measures to reduce community transmission of dengue. These measures include promoting awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease among employees, encouraging good practices for dengue prevention and establishing coordination with local communities to support mosquito control programmes.

Here are some helpful practices to consider to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of mosquitoes breeding:

Cover up bare skin

Wear clothing that covers as much skin as practical – don’t forget your feet and ankles.

Use an effective insect repellent

Use “knock-down” insect spray to kill mosquitoes in your room.

Avoid areas where mosquitoes breed

This includes places with stagnant water such as drains and ponds.

Keep mosquitoes out of your accommodation

Keep windows and doors closed. If you need to have windows and doors open ensure that you at least have mosquito screens closed.

Keep your accommodation free of mosquito breeding areas

Containers and dishes that hold even a small amount of water can breed mosquitoes – dishes under potted plants are a notorious culprit.

“Dengue, like most illnesses, causes a spectrum of diseases – it can be very mild, while some people will experience strong headaches, high fever, and rash. In the most severe cases, it can progress to bleeding and organ failure which can be fatal,” Dr. Chan said.

“Not only is there an impact on infected individuals, outbreaks of dengue can impact healthcare systems when there is a surge in people requiring medical attention and hospitalisation. This is on top of the significant challenges our healthcare systems continue to face due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone needs to be aware of, and [keep] practising, measures to prevent dengue infections and transmission, including organisations that are operating in dengue-affected areas, and those sending travellers to them,” she concluded.

Dengue is now consistently present in over 100 countries across the globe and is “the leading cause of serious illness and death in some Asian and Latin American countries.”

Asia is reported to represent around 70% of the global burden of the disease.


Covid-19: 32.8 pct of positive cases in Sarawak due to BA.5 subvariant

The BA.5 subvariant accounted for 32.8 per cent or one-third of the COVID-19 cases in Sarawak from June onwards, according to the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) Institute of Health and Community Medicine (IHCM).

The matter was disclosed in a report submitted to State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) chairman Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas here.

UNIMAS IHCM director Prof Dr David Perera said from April 3 to July 13 this year a total of 165 samples obtained statewide had been successfully sequenced, all of which were detected as the B.1.1.529, Omicron Variant of Concern(VOC).

He said from these samples, 121 were detected as multiple minor sub-lineages of BA.2, a single case and first reported of BA.4 case and 43 samples with BA.5.

“While the BA.2 VOC continues to be the predominant detected subvariant over this period of surveillance, a rapid increase in infections of the BA.5 VOC was observed.

“From early June onwards, approximately one third (32.8 per cent) of all detections were of this subvariant (BA.5),” he said.

Dr Perera added this observation in Sarawak was consistent with the global distribution of this highly infectious Omicron VOC which has seen a rapid increase in detection rate in many countries.

“In view of this, the public is strongly advised to be aware of the heightened risk of increase in infection rate in the state.

“Please consider getting a booster dose if you have not done so particularly for individuals with comorbidities and those above 50 years old,” he added. – Bernama


Khairy: Focus is on severity of Covid-19 cases, not numbers

Focus must now shift from the number of Covid-19 cases reported to the severity of cases, says health minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

He said it is now common anywhere in the world for the number of cases reported to be less than the actual number of infections due to more relaxed testing protocols.

“In this situation, we look at proxy indicators. We don’t look at the number of cases but their severity,” he said at a press conference today.

Khairy said that when the country is transitioning to the endemic phase, the focus must be on the severity of the cases, which can be seen through the number of deaths and hospital admissions.

He said Malaysia will see increases and drops in the number of new cases due to waves of infections from time to time.

He pointed out that the country’s baseline number of cases has increased due to the Omicron BA.5 variant but the situation is under control as long as the number of deaths and hospital admissions remain low.

Khairy also said that compared to countries like Singapore that face a large Omicron BA.5 wave, Malaysia is facing a small but prolonged wave.

He urged the public to follow the SOPs and report their Covid-19 test results via the MySejahtera application.

“When results are reported, this makes it easier for the health ministry to monitor the actual situation in the community, aside from also looking at the number of deaths and hospitalisations,” he said.

Yesterday, FMT reported that the number of new Covid-19 cases increased from 28,339 to 28,554, or 0.8%, last week from the week before.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, in his update for the week ending Aug 6, said the number of patients admitted to public hospitals and quarantine centres remained unchanged.

The number of hospital admissions per population of 100,000 compared with the preceding week also remained unchanged.

Overall bed occupancy for non-critical beds rose by 2% while intensive care unit (ICU) beds remained unchanged at 14%. FMT


Are migraines eating away at your life?

Migraine attacks are accompanied by a throbbing pain either on one or both sides of the head. Unlike a regular headache, the consequences of a migraine is likely to seep into and impact all areas of our lives. Sunway Medical Centre (SMC) Consultant Neurologist Dr. Raymond Tan, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has said that migraines are as incapacitating neurological disorder, and comes with a wide range of symptoms including blurred vision, nausea, and vomiting.

People who suffer from migraines may be sensitive to lights, noises, and scents, and — for some, experience aura or focal neurologic symptoms; episodes as such can last between 4 to 72 hours in duration.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, migraine is three times more common in women than in men, and is the fourth leading cause of disability in women.

Dr. Sharmina Kamal, SMC Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, revealed that this is largely due to specific changes in the hormone oestrogen: “Oestrogen helps regulate the female reproductive system and controls chemicals in the brain that impact the sensation of pain. Therefore, a drop in oestrogen levels can contribute to the development of chronic headaches or migraines.”

Still, migraines can affect both men and women, from all walks of life.

In childhood, migraines are more prevalent in males but cedes once the influence of oestrogen begins – that is when the prevalence starts to rise in females, contributing to more common, longer-lasting migraines in women between the ages of 20 and 45. Besides hormonal changes, factors such as stress, lack of or too much sleep, skipped meals, weather changes, alcohol, and caffeine can also trigger migraines.

Fortunately, migraines are a modifiable disorder and there is hope for relief through very simple methods.

“The best thing to do at the start of a migraine is to stop your activity and get some rest, preferably in a quiet and dim lit room or area. Taking a simple analgesic like paracetamol at the start of the migraine often helps to limit the severity. Application of topical menthol may also lessen the intensity of acute migraines, although this is best avoided in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding,” suggested Dr. Raymond.

Combining therapy or medication with behavioural measures and a lifestyle that promotes overall good health is also a proven way to handle migraine attacks. For example, maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes consuming nutritious foods, as well as ensuring adequate hydration, frequent exercise, and proper sleep.

You can also speak to your physician about daily vitamins or supplements, such as vitamin B or magnesium.

Migraines are a real source of pain, but most of the time, they are not signs that one has a serious medical problem. However, it is worth speaking to your doctor when you have symptoms that are more severe than normal, including:

  • Uncontrollable vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Blurred vision or other vision changes
  • Loss of balance or coordination

“Occasionally, the migraine attacks persist for more than 72 hours and become debilitating and resistant to conventional treatment. And in cases associated with persistent vomiting, this could lead to potential dehydration and its associated problems, which could require hospitalisation with intravenous fluids and medications,” Dr Raymond said.

Young women, in particular, who experience migraines with aura, especially those who smoke or use oral contraceptives, have an increased incidence of strokes and seizures. It is advisable for women at risk to avoid smoking and choose other forms of contraception, if possible.

As a close, you should know and avoid your triggers, treat symptoms early, and find medications or therapies that work best to relieve your migraine pain. When it comes to treating migraines, timing is everything – waiting too long to address your migraine symptoms or take preventive steps can increase how often and severely a migraine strikes.


8,652 HFMD cases in state, fifth highest

Johor is ranked fifth among the states with a high cumulative number of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) cases since January 1 until July 29, this year.

State Health and Unity Committee chairman, Ling Tian Soon said a total of 8,652 cases were reported during the period, an increase of 81.6 times compared to 106 cases for the same period last year.

He said the other states that recorded a high number of cumulative cases were Selangor with 35,575, Perak (13,487), Federal Territories (13,434) and Sarawak (8,727).

“This increase has been projected to happen this year due to relaxation of the standard operating procedure and in line with the rise in cases in Malaysia. However, the situation is still under control.

“This is proven by the significant decrease in the trend of HFMD cases reported in Johor starting from the Epidemiology Week (ME) 22/2022 until ME30/2022,” he said in a statement, here, today.

Ling said most of the HFMD cases in Johor involved children under the age of six, with 7,451 cases, followed by 1,033 cases among those aged seven to 12 and the rest were aged over 13.

He said the district of Johor Baru recorded the highest number of cases at 2,989, Kluang (1,119), Tangkak (888), Batu Pahat (887), Segamat (775), Kota Tinggi (690), Pontian (578), Muar (330), Kulai (269) and Mersing (127).

“Until now, only two active outbreaks of HFMD were reported in the state involving Johor Baru district,” he added. – Bernama


Cigarette ban will have little effect on economy – Khairy

The government’s moves to gradually end cigarette sales, dubbed the generational endgame (GEG), will have little effect on the economy, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said today.

He said the tobacco industry contributes only 0.18% of gross domestic product (GDP), while the loss of productivity from cigarette smoking had a greater impact on the economy.

“This means that only a small number of people are involved in the cigarette industry,” he said in a media interview ahead of a Dewan Rakyat debate on Tuesday on the Tobacco and Smoking Products Control Bill, Bernama reported.

The bill proposes to place a ban on smoking, buying or owning cigarettes and tobacco products on those born in 2007 onwards. The ban is to come into effect in 2025.

“The total cigarette market will gradually shrink, starting with those born in 2007, 2008, 2009 and so on…it will take a long time before the market shrinks, (maybe) 20 to 30 years,” he said.

The cigarette ban would not cause an impact on the economy overnight, he said, as it will be enforced in stages. “Every year more (individuals) cannot smoke, but those who are already smoking will continue to buy cigarette products,” he said.

Independent panel to report to Parliament

Khairy said the health ministry had given its assurance to a parliamentary committee on health that an independent committee would be set up to review the bill.

He said the committee had requested a mandatory evaluation period, but that was not included in the proposed law.

However, he had given an assurance that the ministry will form an independent committee to review the law and table a report on the effectiveness of the law before it is enforced in 2025.

“I gave the assurance that the committee will report to Parliament, instead of the health ministry. Apart from that, 10 years after GEG is implemented, this committee will do a review again, to see if the law needs to be amended and so on,” he said.

Khairy is scheduled to table the bill for a second reading in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, followed by a debate the next day.

The bill proposes a fine not exceeding RM5,000 on those caught buying, smoking, or possessing smoking-related products.

Ways to control cigarette sales

Khairy said the ministry would hold meetings with retailers of cigarette products to discuss the best mechanism to control sales.

“There are several mechanisms being considered, such as use of QR code, installing an application in the identification card for purchase of cigarette products…something that is easy and does not cause trouble for sellers and buyers.

“For areas where there is no internet access, maybe the dealer needs to see the buyer’s identification card,” he said.

Online sales of cigarette and vaping products would not be allowed if the new law comes into effect. “With this bill, it is easier for us to take action through the Communications and Multimedia Commission,” he said. – FMT


Prevention and early detection of scoliosis in children and adolescents

Scoliosis: the hereditary spinal condition in which the spine curves to one side, taking after the shape of an “S” or “C,” is often misbelieved to be the result of bad posture, and, in children, caused by carrying heavy bags – neither are true.

Although most cases of scoliosis have no known cause (idiopathic scoliosis), early detection is recommended to prevent it from causing serious detriment to a person’s health, according to Dr. Wong Chung Chek, Consultant Orthopaedic and Spine Surgeon at ALTY Hospital (ALTY) in Kuala Lumpur.

Scoliosis is said to affect about 2-3% of the population in Malaysia. It is most often detected during adolescence, but can also affect adults and the elderly, albeit at a lower rate.

As scoliosis can worsen very quickly during childhood growth spurts and adolescence, parents should make it a point to examine their children on a regular basis. Scoliosis progresses very rapidly during these growth spurts and only slows down or stops once the child reaches bone maturity.

Signs of scoliosis become more noticeable as a child grows in age or as the curve progresses, but that doesn’t mean that scoliosis is impossible to notice early.

Parents can look out for any imbalances in the height or position of shoulders, shoulder blades, or hips — for example, one shoulder appears to be consistently drooping below the other. Parents should also watch for protruding shoulder blades, unevenness in gait, or misalignment of the head with the rest of the body, as these are all common symptoms of scoliosis.

In addition to home surveyance by parents, it is recommended to have posture screening for children in schools, together with regular health screenings. This will help to identify any symptoms earlier, especially since most children are developing rapidly at this time, which is typically when scoliosis begins to occur; and raise awareness about the condition, at the same time.

Recently, ALTY organised a Community Scoliosis Screening campaign – with pharmaceutical business, Viatris – around Klang Valley which resulted in over 250 walk-ins. From the screening sessions, it was discovered that a majority of parents and guardians were unsure of what signs to look for in their children, especially concerning scoliosis.

Most were also unaware that posture screening is available at most health clinics that can highlight growth or development related issues in children.

Dr. Wong said that one away to ensure early detection of scoliosis in children is to make early screening accessible in schools. School authorities and government collaborations can be considered in the future to ensure that posture screening is included as part of regular health assessments for Malaysian children.

However, if you are still unsure, it is best to consult an orthopaedic specialist as soon as possible. An orthopaedist who specialises in paediatric conditions will be able to examine spinal curvatures in children or recommend preventive measures as necessary.

While scoliosis is not a preventable condition, measures can be taken for early detection that can slow down the worsening of the condition, thus avoiding surgery. Even in situations where surgery is still needed, early detection would translate to shorter segments and safer surgeries.


Japan’s first case of monkeypox confirmed in Tokyo

Japan confirmed its first case of monkeypox on Monday with a man in his 30s in Tokyo testing positive, Kyodo news agency quoted the Tokyo metropolitan government.

The patient travelled to a European country from late June to mid-July where he had close contact with a person infected with monkeypox, it said.

The man, who is currently hospitalised, started to feel unwell on July 15, the Tokyo government said. His symptoms include a fever, a headache and a rash, it added.

Earlier in the day, government officials held a meeting to discuss measures needed to respond to a possible outbreak of monkeypox in the country after the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday declared the outbreak of the infectious disease a global health emergency.

Infections have been reported since May outside Central and West Africa, where the disease is endemic.

Symptoms of the disease, spread through close physical contact, include fever, extensive rashes, skin lesions and swollen lymph nodes following an incubation period of five to 21 days. – Bernama


HFMD: Perak has recorded over 8,000 cases so far this year

Perak has recorded 8,032 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) since the beginning of the year as of yesterday (June 8).

State Health, Environment, Science and Green Technology Committee chairman Mohd Akmal Kamarudin said of the total, 144 cases involved teenagers aged 12 and above.

He said 787 cases or 10.5 per cent of the cases involved primary school students aged seven to 12, while the highest number of cases was recorded involving the group under the age of seven, with 6,544 cases.

He said 222 cases were reported during epidemiological week 22 as of last Monday, which led to the closure of 188 childcare centres, either voluntarily or by the directive of the District Health Office (PKD), in accordance with the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases 1988 Act.

“The Manjung district recorded the highest number of kindergarten closures with 67 or 35.2 per cent followed by Kinta district with 53 kindergartens (28.2 per cent).

“The PKD routinely inspects all premises, and so far, more than 6,000 premises have been inspected,” he said after officiating the Kinta River Basin-Integrated River Basin Management (CBKRB-IRBM) Community Plan Draft Discussion Workshop here today.

Mohd Akmal said premises owners should always take care of cleanliness and hygiene, and not allow entry to any children who have symptoms of HFMD to prevent transmission to other children. – Bernama


Ethical reporting on suicides can help save lives

The recent news of suicide cases in Penang has left the nation aghast, to say the least. This is not surprising, however, as cases of suicide have seen an alarming and concerning rise in recent times. While this is a situation that certainly needs to be addressed, another aspect that requires equal attention is the manner in which suicides are reported in the media.

The ethical reporting of suicide by the media and the public can play an active role in changing perception and avoiding suicide contagion while creating heightened awareness on this dire issue. With recent cases in Malaysia having covered by the media and shared by individuals – the various components that make up such content, including headlines, language and images can all have an impact on the general public because of the media’s influential role in society.

“I believe reporting, when done safely, facilitates important conversations on mental health and how to get appropriate care and treatment. Providing helplines are helpful, but what is far more important, is to have more news articles with an overall emphasis on encouraging adaptive coping and help-seeking in looking after one’s mental health,” commented Dr Ng Yin Ping, Consultant Psychiatrist, Pantai Hospital Penang and Vice-chair of i-Life Suicide Prevention Association of Penang.

Echoing her concerns, Norman Goh, Press and Information Officer with the Delegation of the European Union to Malaysia said, “Suicide-related stories are of public interest and the media have a role to safely and responsibly report such stories. They should use the opportunity to allay any stigma on mental health and create better awareness in the society to be kinder towards people in need of help.”

In this regard, the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (the Content Forum) believes that all suicide-related content must be reported and shared ethically and responsibly based on available best practices and media guidelines, including the Guidelines for Media Reporting on Suicide 2011 by the Ministry of Health Malaysia. Aside from promoting responsible reporting on suicide by the media, these guidelines are also aimed at reducing the prevalence of suicide in Malaysia, particularly the issue of imitation suicide, which is increasingly becoming an equally alarming issue.

The guidelines highlight that the degree of publicity given to a suicide story can be linked to the number of subsequent suicides. Studies have shown that there are typically increases in suicide cases reported after inappropriate broadcast news reports of cases of suicide. In print media, highly publicized stories that appear often seem to carry the greatest impact – especially if they involve celebrities or influential figures.

“There is serious implication in sharing detailed methods and narratives of how a suicide happens as it can become instructive to a vulnerable individual. In the same vein, sharing help-seeking resources will be that glimmer of hope for someone who needs that helping hand,” said Dr Ravivarma Panirselvam, psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Hospital Miri.

The Content Forum has sounded a clarion call to members of the media to take a stand and change aspects of unethical and irresponsible reporting of suicides to ensure that this complex topic is handled tactfully and factually. This can gradually work to change society’s perception and handling of this issue, including awareness on mental health and what can be done to help those in need.

“We understand that there are many out there who may not be aware of what constitutes ethical reporting of suicide cases, and the Content Forum is committed to heighten awareness of the same. Media professionals have been quite accommodating whenever we approach them to highlight aspects of their reporting that go against best practices, and they revise their content accordingly. This form of self-regulation is highly encouraged not just among media professionals but also content creators, and the general public,” said the Content Forum Executive Director Mediha Mahmood.

“In this era of social media and ‘viral’ content, people tend to gravitate towards more sensationalised reporting of cases in news. However, it is important to understand that covering this topic responsibly will not only help with grieving families but also reduce the risk of suicide contagion.”

The guidelines for media reporting on suicide by the Disease Control Division Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) can be found here https://www.moh.gov.my/index.php/database_stores/attach_download/554/56.

For more information on the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code, kindly visit  https://contentforum.my/.