Health minister: Vitamins for measles-afflicted Orang Asli children, immunisation ongoing

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks during a townhall session at Puspanita Puri, Putrajaya June 11, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks during a townhall session at Puspanita Puri, Putrajaya June 11, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The Health Ministry is fighting a measles outbreak among an Orang Asli community in Kelantan by continuing immunisation efforts and giving all affected children vitamin A as malnutrition heightens fatality rates, its minister said today.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad confirmed today that laboratory tests show that the Orang Asli villagers in the Kuala Koh village in Gua Musang in Kelantan are experiencing a measles outbreak.

Dzulkefly described measles as being highly contagious with a single case potentially spreading the virus to 12 to 18 other individuals via airborne droplets or direct contact with such droplets from infected persons, but said it was preventable through the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine given to babies twice when they are nine-months and 12-months old.

Dzulkelfy listed out the symptoms of measles such as fever with cough or flu or conjunctivitis and rashes lasting for several days, but said complications can arise especially for babies, children and individuals with malnutrition and low immunity levels.

He said the possible complications for those infected with the measles virus include pneumonia, diarrhoea, encephalitis, otitis media and death.

“The case fatality rate of measles is usually less than one per cent, but can be as high as 3-6 per cent if there is malnutrition,” he said in a statement today, having noted that malnutrition also increases the risk of infection with measles.

Dzulkefly outlined five key measures being taken to control the measles outbreak in Kuala Koh village.

“Efforts to prevent and control the outbreak has been carried out and is still being done, including: Active search of cases in this Orang Asli village and in surrounding villages based on their movements before this.

“Giving vitamin A to all children for measles cases treated, intended to enhance the immunity system since they face the problem of malnutrition, carrying out immunisation activities to all Orang Asli villagers in the affected location,” he said.

He said health education are also being provided to the Orang Asli villagers, including counselling sessions to reduce their stress and anxiety, while infection prevention control at health facilities will be enhanced and appropriate personal protective equipment would always be in use.

Dzulkefly said the Health Ministry has ordered other states to increase surveillance of measles infection there and to increase immunisation coverage within their respective Orang Asli communities.

“States have to immediately inform the Health Ministry through the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) if there are clusters of cases or deaths with the same symptoms,” he said.

He said the police continues to monitor and control the entry of members of the public and non-governmental organisations into the Kuala Koh village area to prevent the measles virus from spreading.

Noting that multi-agency collaboration was important to prevent a repeat of such an outbreak, Dzulkefly said a clean living environment including safe water supply and sufficient food supplies have to be immediately heightened, adding that his ministry is committed to ensuring comprehensive health services to Orang Asli nationwide.

In the same statement, Dzulkefly said there has been a total of 112 respiratory infection cases in the Kuala Koh village — including two deaths reported to the ministry — involving symptoms such as cough, flu, fever and several cases of conjunctivitis.

Out of these 112 cases recorded from June 3 to June 15, a total of 52 patients are still undergoing treatment in hospital (48 in normal ward and four in the Intensive Care Unit), while 19 are being kept at the Rumah Inap Kesihatan Orang Asli at Gua Musang and 39 have been allowed to return home.

Dzulkefly said 92 per cent or a total of 170 of the 185 Kuala Koh villagers have been found and had undergone a health inspection.

Based on test results as of June 15 where 37 cases tested positive for measles and tests for other illnesses such as tuberculosis being negative, Dzulkefly said there was a measles outbreak in the Kuala Koh village.

He explained that the Kuala Koh’s Orang Asli villagers’ measles outbreak was contributed by their low immunisation coverage against measles, with only 61.5 per cent receiving the first MMR vaccine shot and only 30 per cent having received the second dose due to their nomadic lifestyle.

Out of the 14 deaths reported so far, only two cases have been sent for autopsy with one revealed to be due to pneumonia, while 12 other bodies were yesterday retrieved from Kuala Koh to Hospital Gua Musang for further investigations regarding the cause of death.

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