KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 — Tuberculosis (TB) is fast rising as a non-communicable disease (NCD) in the country, with the death rate even higher than that of dengue.
A total of 1,520 deaths from TB were recorded in 2012 compared to 34 deaths from dengue in the same year.
Even the number of TB cases were higher than dengue. The Health Ministry recorded 22,710 TB cases, 810 more than than the 21,900 dengue cases reported in the same year.
The influx of foreigners was said to be one of the contributing factors for the rise of the disease, which has seen an increase of seven to 10 per cent in the past five years. Many foreigners work in various sectors, including food and beverages and as domestic helpers.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya had said recently foreigners contributed to the sudden surge of TB cases in Malaysia.
“There has been extensive human migration over the past 20 years, especially from higher TB burden countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. This brings about ‘TB migration’,” said Health Ministry director of disease control division Dr Chong Chee Keong.
“Foreigners have a higher risk of spreading the disease as they seek treatment late and tend to drop out of treatment.”
The ministry recorded 16,918 TB cases with 1,504 deaths in 2007. In 2012, the total number of TB cases increased to 22,710 with 1,520 deaths.
Dr Chong was unable to provide last year’s figures as it would only be tabulated next month.
“There has been a steady increase of TB cases from 2007 to 2011 with the notification rate of 72 cases per 100,000 people in 2011 to 78.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2012. The mortality rate due to this disease is between 5.3 and 5.8 deaths for every 100,000 people,” he said.
He said Sabah recorded 4,426 TB cases in 2012, the highest in the country, followed by Selangor (3,560 cases) and Sarawak (2,430).
“The number of foreigners infected with the disease in Sabah is alarming as they contribute between 30 and 40 per cent of the total cases recorded annually,” he said.
However, foreigners were not the sole cause for the rising trend.
“There is also a higher risk of getting TB among those with co-morbid conditions, like diabetes mellitus, immune deficiency, chronic obstructive lung disease, the elderly and smokers,” Dr Chong said.
“Living in cramped squalid conditions increases the risk of TB transmission and this can be seen among locals and migrants.”
Dr Chong said TB remained the highest cause of death among all infectious diseases.
“Dengue is caused by a virus, making it more acute while TB is bacterial in nature, having an incubation period that can last for many months,” he said.
“The recent dengue outbreak may have outnumbered TB but not for mortality rates, which belong to TB.”