Get the Flu Shot to Prevent a Heartbreaking Holiday Season!

In Malaysia, flu can occur year-round. Older persons, especially those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are advised to make flu vaccination an annual priority, especially during the holiday seasons when mingling and traveling are often inevitable. It’s important to strike a balance between staying safe and creating beautiful memories!

DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU COULD END UP WITH A HEART ATTACK OR STROKE WHEN YOU GET THE FLU?

Recent studies have cautioned that influenza increases the risk of heart attack by more than 10 times in the first 7 days after contracting the flu.

This is especially so if you are 65 and over, regardless of whether you have a history of heart disease or are living with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and kidney disease. In industrialized countries, most deaths associated with flu occur among older persons aged 65 years and above!

Among older persons, influenza can present as a relatively mild respiratory illness; it may also present without any symptoms (no fever and/or no cough). It can also lead to fatigue and confusion, potentially setting off a sequence of catastrophic events.

Professor Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, Technical Committee Chairman of the Immunise4Life Programme, explains: “It is not just a fever, runny nose, cough and body aches, it could seriously harm your heart.”

HOW THE FLU AFFECTS YOUR HEART

When the flu virus enters your system, your immune system strings into action.

Just like fights in real life, collateral damage may result; when an infection triggers a strong response from your immune system, the immune cells can also damage your own healthy tissues and organs.

One example is COVID-19, which can trigger very high activation of the immune system, resulting in the uncontrolled release of cytokines, small molecules that aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of infection.

This uncontrolled release (“cytokine storm”) may lead in failure and death of many organs in the body.

 

An illustration of cytokine storm, sometimes called hypercytokinemia, and how it affects both healthy and infected cells. Click on the image for a larger version.

Studies suggest that the same inflammatory response described above can trigger effects that can damage the heart (cardiovascular events) when you have an influenza infection.

Dr Alan Fong, the President of the National Heart Association Malaysia (NHAM) and a consultant cardiologist, shares that your body’s immune response, when present along the direct effects of flu on the inner lining of your blood vessels or atherosclerotic plaques, may cause rupture of such plaques or blockage in the arteries–effects that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

OLDER PERSONS ARE ESPECIALLY AT RISK WHEN THEY CATCH THE FLU

In older persons, there are changes that occur in the immune system that leads to a decline in the ability of the body to fight off infections such as the flu; this is known as immunosenescence.

Professor Dr Tan Maw Pin, a consultant geriatrician that chairs the Flu & Older Persons Sub-Committee of the Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG), tells us: “In addition to this, ageing contributes to chronic, non-infectious, low-grade inflammation—known as inflammaging—which plays a key role in the cause and progression of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases.”

She further adds that ageing also promotes the development and progression of atherosclerosis, the most common cause of acute coronary syndrome. This syndrome gives rise to situations in which the blood supplied to the heart is suddenly blocked.”

“Hence, when an older person gets the flu, all these factors put them at higher risk of developing a heart attack and stroke,” Prof Tan reiterates.

FLU VACCINATION CAN PROTECT YOUR HEART

Studies have found that the flu vaccination was associated with a 34% lower risk of major adverse cardiovascular events, and those that have recent acute coronary syndrome had a 45% lower risk.

There is also an 18% reduced risk of death reported in patients with heart failure.

For people with type 2 diabetes mellitus, studies have shown that the flu vaccination reduces the risk of heart failure by 22%, stroke by 30%, heart attack by 19% and pneumonia by 15%.

Flu vaccination does not require behaviour change or a daily intervention, yet it prevents cardiovascular events as well as as other evidence-based approaches such as statin therapy, antihypertensive therapy, and smoking cessation.

This article is contributed by Immunise4Life (IFL), a collaboration of the Ministry of Health Malaysia with the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) and the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases & Chemotherapy (MSIDC).

The article has been edited by HealthToday for publication on this website.

For more information on flu, you can visit IFL’s website Act of Love (link opens in a new tab).


References:

  1. Warren-Gash, C., Blackburn, R., Whitaker, H., McMenamin, J., & Hayward, A. C. (2018). Laboratory-confirmed respiratory infections as triggers for acute myocardial infarction and stroke: a self-controlled case series analysis of national linked datasets from Scotland. The European respiratory journal, 51(3), 1701794. https://doi.org/10.1183/13993003.01794-2017
  2. Michos, E. D., & Udell, J. A. (2021). Am I getting the influenza shot too?: Influenza vaccination as post-myocardial infarction care for the prevention of cardiovascular events and death. Circulation, 144(18), 1485–1488. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.121.057534
  3. Modin, D., Jørgensen, M. E., Gislason, G., Jensen, J. S., Køber, L., Claggett, B., Hegde, S. M., Solomon, S. D., Torp-Pedersen, C., & Biering-Sørensen, T. (2019). Influenza vaccine in heart failure. Circulation, 139(5), 575–586. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.036788
  4. Vamos, E. P., Pape, U. J., Curcin, V., Harris, M. J., Valabhji, J., Majeed, A., & Millett, C. (2016). Effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in preventing admission to hospital and death in people with type 2 diabetes. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 188(14), E342–E351. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.151059
  5. King, S. C., Fiebelkorn, A. P., & Sperling, L. S. (2020, November 2). Influenza vaccination: Proven and effective cardiovascular disease prevention. American College of Cardiology. https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2020/11/02/14/42/influenza-vaccination-proven-and-effective-cvd-prevention
  6. Vetrano, D. L., Triolo, F., Maggi, S., Malley, R., Jackson, T. A., Poscia, A., Bernabei, R., Ferrucci, L., & Fratiglioni, L. (2021). Fostering healthy aging: The interdependency of infections, immunity and frailty. Ageing research reviews, 69, 101351. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2021.101351

Invasive Mold Infections: A Rare but Deadly Fungal Disease

WORDS DR LOW LEE LEE

DR LOW LEE LEE
Infectious Disease Physician
Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital
FUNGI: OUR FRIENDS & FOES (IT’S COMPLICATED)

Fungi are found naturally in our environment. There are many different types of fungi, over 2 million species however about 600 fungi have caused diseases.

Invasive fungal infections typically manifest as a severe and aggressive form of the disease, leading to corresponding to high prevalence and death rates if left untreated.

These infections include invasive mold infections.

INVASIVE MOLD INFECTIONS AT A GLANCE
  • Usually caused by Aspergillus (giving rise to invasive aspergillosis) but can also be caused by other rarer molds such as Mucormycetes (giving rise to mucormycosis).
  • These molds produce spores; most of us encounter these spores every day without getting ill, but people with compromised immune systems may develop complications as a result of these spores.
  • Despite invasive aspergillosis and mucormycosis being relatively uncommon, invasive mold infections are often life threatening. If left untreated, the mortality rates can reach 100%!
  • Various parts of the world reported superinfections of invasive aspergillosis and mucormycosis in patients with COVID-19, which are associated with increased risk of death. COVID-19 likely increases the risk for fungal infections because it weakens the immune system or due to certain therapies used for treatment such as steroids.
  • There are no specific symptoms, as symptoms can vary depending on the type of infection. This makes diagnosis an infection a challenging and sometimes complicated task!
Invasive Aspergillosis
Aspergillosis and how it affects our lungs. Click on the image for a larger, more detailed version.
  • Invasive aspergillosis is uncommon and occurs primarily in immunocompromised people.
  • Commonly seen in people that have undergone stem cell and other organ transplants (especially lung transplant), as well as in patients with blood-related cancers such as acute leukemia.
  • Typically affects the lungs, but it can also spread to other parts of the body.
Mucormycosis
  • Mucormycosis is rare and estimated to affect approximately 10,000 cases worldwide, barring India. If India is included the numbers rise to 910,000 cases annually!
  • Typically occurs in the sinuses of the nose or lungs; however it can spread to the brain and other organs as well.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF A POSSIBLE INVASIVE MOLD INFECTION
  • Typical pneumonia symptoms including fever, chest pain, cough, coughing up blood, and shortness of breath
  • Sinus infection, which may be painful
  • Pain, tenderness, swelling and pressure around the eyes, cheeks, nose or forehead
  • One-sided facial swelling
  • Headaches
  • Nasal or sinus congestion
  • Black lesions on nasal bridge
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF AN INVASIVE MOLD INFECTION
  • When performing activities that involve close contact with soil and dust, such as yard work or gardening, take care to wear shoes, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts
  • Whenever possible, avoid dusty areas like construction or excavation sites; wear a N95 mask when you have to visit these areas
  • Keep your house dry and mold-free
  • Avoid staying in a moldy home (even while it is being cleaned)

Children More Vulnerable to Infections During These Post-Pandemic Times?

WORDS DR LIM YIN SEAR & DR MAHFUZAH MOHAMED

DR LIM YIN SEAR
Senior Lecturer of Paediatrics
School of Medicine
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Taylor’s University
DR MAHFUZAH MOHAMED
Guest Lecturer of Paediatrics
School of Medicine
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Taylor’s University
NEW NORMAL LEADS TO  NEW ‘CULTURE SHOCK’ FOR A CHILD’S IMMUNE SYSTEM

For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, children were predominantly confined to their home and as a result, were less exposed to common bacteria and viruses. This will render younger children’s immune system to develop poorly.

From March 2022 onwards, as life seemed to make its way back to normality, children started to attend school, enrichment classes, and sports activities again.

This has led to many young kids falling ill with diseases such as influenza, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and lung infections. An elevated frequency of visits to the doctor has worried many parents that their children may have weakened immune system (we say that these children are then immunocompromised).

ARE CHILDREN REALLY MORE PRONE TO INFECTIONS POST-PANDEMIC?

Currently, there is no scientific data to show that children are more prone to infections after the pandemic.

HOWEVER, THERE ARE CERTAIN FACTORS THAT CAN INDIRECTLY UP THE RISK OF INFECTIONS IN CHILDREN

A briefing by UNICEF on the impact of COVID-19 on children has shown that the prevalence of unhealthy diets such as snacking has increased. This may be due to a lack of easy access to fresh food and financial constraints, possibly leading to childhood obesity and malnourishment.

Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle and the lack of exercise could contribute to childhood obesity, escalating vulnerability to infections.

Another major issue that arose during the MCO period was the disruption of essential health services including childhood immunisations. In a recent WHO pulse survey, 90% of countries reported disruptions to routine immunisations. Immunisations are of utmost importance for preventing certain infectious diseases.

Another important issue that needs to be taken seriously is the mental health of children and their caretakers. The Adverse Childhood experience (ACE) study showed that adverse childhood experiences in categories of abuse, household challenges, and neglect are not only associated with worse mental health outcomes, but also with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver disease, and cancer.

POSSIBLE SIGNS THAT YOUR CHILD MAY HAVE A WEAK IMMUNE SYSTEM 
  • Frequent and recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis, or skin infections
  • Inflammation and infection of internal organs
  • Blood disorders, such as low platelet count or anaemia
  • Digestive problems, such as cramping, loss of appetite, nausea, and diarrhoea
  • Delayed growth and development
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or type 1 diabetes
TOO CLEAN ISN’T ALWAYS GOOD

Some parents go to the extreme to create a “super clean” environment to protect their children and forbid the children to play or touch anything or anyone that has not been sanitised. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, and here’s why.

In the early years, our immune system is a blank canvas. Although infectious disease is a legitimate cause for concern, and a certain level of cleanliness is necessary, children need to develop an immunity to common pathogens.

Overprotecting children from germs is detrimental to their development. Therefore, parents need to balance between a clean environment rather than a sterile environment.

HOW ABOUT HAND-WASHING AND SANITISING?

Studies have shown that soap and water are better equipped to remove more germs from one’s hand than hand sanitiser does.

However, it is still recommended to use hand sanitisers when washing with soap is not an option.

LET’S TALK ABOUT VITAMIN D

Generally speaking, children with a balanced diet and outdoor activities would attain the daily requirement of nutrients.

A minimum of 400 IU (10 µg/day) of vitamin D is recommended for children and adolescents, especially among exclusively breastfed infants and all children and adolescents who are not routinely exposed to sunlight.

Vitamin D supplementation is only recommended to those who are unable to obtain an adequate amount of vitamin D from their diet or have inadequate exposure to sunlight.

Care should be taken while consuming vitamin D supplementation. A daily vitamin D intake of 2,000 IU or more puts one at risk of vitamin D toxicity. The signs and symptoms of toxicity include headache, a metallic taste in one’s mouth, pancreatitis, nausea, and vomiting.

Minister of Health Officiates New Child Health, Safety, and Well-being Programme

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

On September 15 2022, our Minister of Health YB Tuan Khairy Jamaluddin officiated the launch of Healthy Little Bloomers programme and the roll-out of its maiden campaign Junior Germ Busters. 

The Healthy Little Bloomers programme aims to promote child health, safety and well-being through a network more than 30,000 early childhood care and education centres nationwide, potentially benefiting more than 800,000 children.

This is an initiative led by the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) in collaboration with 10 prominent early childhood care and education organisations from both private and government sectors. These organisations are Jabatan Kemajuan Masyarakat (KEMAS), ECCE Council, Malaysian Association of Professional Early Childhood Educators (MAPECE), Persatuan Tadika Malaysia (PTM), Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM), Persatuan Pengasuh Berdaftar Malaysia (PPBM), National Association of Special Education, Malaysia (PPKK), Majlis Kebajikan Kanak-Kanak Malaysia (MKKM), Persatuan Tadika Sabah (PTS) and Association of Kindergarten Operators Sarawak (AKO).

In his speech during the launch, YB Tuan Khairy highlighted the following:
  • Young children, especially those under the age of 5, are vulnerable to health and safety threats, such as infectious diseases, injuries, abuse and neglect
  • Children who are overweight or obese are 5 times more likely to become overweight and obese adults
  • Child abuse survivors are at higher risk of becoming abusers or getting involved in abusive relationship during adulthood
  • Unmet emotional and mental health needs during childhood will lead to difficulties and problems during adolescence and adulthood
PROGRAMME IN STEP & LINE WITH MALAYSIAN GOVERNMENT DEVELOPMENT GOALS

YB Tuan Khairy is pleased with the launch of Healthy Little Bloomers because, as he puts it: “Children are the nation’s future. Therefore, addressing their health, safety and well-being needs holistically is one of the government’s key priorities. It has been part of the Malaysian government development goals since the 1960s and outlined in our latest Child Health 2021-2023 national framework”.

He applauds the campaign as an initiative that brings together MPA and partner organisations for bringing together medical professionals and early childhood care and education experts in a systematic and potentially long-term collaboration to help bring to fruition the goals of the government.

This is a vital programme as many young children spend most of their waking hours in kindergartens and children centres every week, abd studies have shown that health promotion intervention in kindergarten and childcare centres can be effective, especially if parental engagement is involved.

THE PROGRAMME IN MORE DETAIL

Professor Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, Chairman of Healthy Little Bloomers, shares that the programme is meant to be cover all key domains and aspects of child health, safety and well-being in a holistic manner.

He further elaborates that the programme will take an annual thematic approach.

WHAT THE HEALTHY LITTLE BLOOMERS PROGRAMME OFFERS
  • Training for early childhood care and education operators and personnel
  • Fun, exciting, and interactive lessons for children; the programme is inclusive and will cater to children from various population segments, including those that are underprivileged and with special needs
  • Information and educational materials for parents and primary caregivers; available in Bahasa Malaysia and English
  • Roadshows to cater to less advantaged children, featuring activities that will consider the needs of those with hearing or vision impairments.

Visit healthylittlebloomers.my to get more information as well as free educational materials.

Rise of the Superbugs

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

PROFESSOR CHIN BEEK YOKE
Associate Dean
School of Health Sciences
International Medical University

Superbug is a term coined to describe multi-drug resistant bacteria.

Medications that are usually effective on them, such as antibiotics, just don’t work as effectively anymore. “These are bacteria that circumvent the effects of antibiotics and proliferate or multiply uncontrollably in the host,” explains Professor Chin Beek Yoke.

EVERY BACTERIAL SPECIES CAN BE A SUPERBUG

Any species of bacteria can develop a resistance to antibiotics and become a superbug.

“Bacteria are very smart. They will mutate to overcome antibiotics. Once bacteria has the resistance gene in them, they can duplicate and combine with different species of bacteria. That’s how bacteria propagate their multi-drug resistance in nature,” Prof Chin shares.

WE HAVE A ROLE IN CREATING SUPERBUGS

According to Prof Chin, a key reason why superbugs are prevalent is the unnecessary and over-prescription of antibiotics.

GOOD HABITS TO ADOPT
  • Take antibiotics only when necessary. Diseases that are not caused by bacteria do not require antibiotics!
  • Complete your full course of antibiotics—finish all the antibiotics your doctor gave you. Don’t stop just because you think you are feeling better.
  • Avoid using unapproved or black market antibiotics that are not at full strength and do not work as effectively as genuine ones
IMPROPER DISPOSAL OF ANTIBIOTICS MAY ALSO PLAY A ROLE

People tend to dispose of antibiotics incorrectly, and this can be a problem.

“We pour it down the drain, or throw it into the trash. The excess antibiotics then get into our ecosystem, in the soil, or may end up in rivers and water bodies,” says Prof Chin.

GOOD HABIT TO ADOPT
The correct way to dispose of the extra antibiotics is to bring them to your nearest pharmacy. Many pharmacies are equipped to dispose of extra medicines in the appropriate manner.
THEN THERE’S THE ISSUE OF ANTIBIOTICS IN ANIMAL AND FISH FEED…

Another cause is the use of antibiotics in feed for domestic animals or fish. When humans consume the meat from these animals and fish, they also consume the residual antibiotics present in these products.

This unintended consumption of antibiotics may modify the bacterial environment in our bodies and render us susceptible to future bacterial infections.

GOOD HABIT TO ADOPT
Purchase foods that are obtained from sources that are free of antibiotics.
HOW TO MINIMIZE POSSIBLE CONTACT WITH SUPERBUGS

Multidrug resistant bacteria are everywhere, but we can do a few things to reduce coming in contact with them.

PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE
  • Wipe surfaces and clean items that come into our household
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables after purchase, before storage, and before cooking. This will prevent the bacteria from propagating
  • If you wish to try fruits from stalls and supermarkets in order to ‘test before buying’, wipe them first with a wet wipe
  • Wear shoes and socks when travelling in areas where contaminated soil or water is prevalent
DON’T PANIC TOO MUCH ABOUT COMING IN CONTACT WITH SUPERBUGS, HOWEVER!

Prof Chin explains that having them on your skin alone doesn’t mean that you will become infected and suffer.

“Your skin is a very good protective organ,” she says. “Bacteria or pathogens can only enter when there is a cut. So, if you don’t have a cut or laceration, you will be fine. Just make sure to wash your hands and feet or any exposed areas.”

The same goes for the times when you ingest bacteria. “You will usually have enough stomach acid to kill these superbugs, and most of the time you have enough innate immune cells in your body to fight them off,” she explains.

However, people with health conditions that weaken their immune system should take precautions to reduce their odds of contracting bacterial infections; they should consult their doctor on the best ways to do this.

Let’s Talk about Monkeypox

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

PROFESSOR DR JAMES KOH KWEE CHOY
Head of Division of Medicine
School of Medicine
International Medical University
FACT 1
MONKEYPOX IS CAUSED BY, YES, THE MONKEYPOX VIRUS
This virus belongs to the same family (Poxviridae) as the smallpox virus.

“The monkeypox virus was first isolated from a colony of monkeys in the 1950s, hence the name. Although it is called ‘monkeypox’, monkeys and humans are incidental hosts,” explains Professor James Koh Kwee Choy, an infectious disease consultant. “The actual reservoir is unknown, but is likely to be certain rodents.”

What we know it that the virus can be transmitted from animals, such as primates and rats, to humans. From thereon, the virus can be spread by humans to other humans and even other animals.

FACT 2
MONKEYPOX IS NOT A NEW DISEASE, AND IN FACT USED TO BE PRETTY RARE… UNTIL 2022, THAT IS
Monkeypox was first identified as a cause of disease in humans in the 1970s, when it was detected among certain populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (at that time, the country was called Zaire).

Because outbreaks were rare and the spread was limited outside of the African continent, in the years after researchers assumed that the virus spread to humans in an ‘inefficient’ way.

Well, that assumption was definitely challenged in the May 2022 monkeypox outbreak!

“This outbreak is unusual because, in the past, the number of cases were small,” shares Prof James. “This time around, there is a wider and faster spread, and the symptoms or presentations are also different.”

In light of the outbreak, the WHO has since declared monkeypox an ‘evolving threat of moderate public health concern’.

YOU MAY HAVE MONKEYPOX IF YOU…
  • Develop a rash at or near your genitals or anus; other possible locations for the rash include your hands, feet, chest, face, and mouth
  • The rash may look like pimples or blisters, but will go through several stages (including scabbing) before healing
  • The rash can be painful or itchy
  • Some people may also have symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, aches in their muscles and back, headaches, coughing, sore throat, etc
  • Symptoms can vary from person to person; some may develop a rash first before other symptoms, while others develop the symptoms first and rash later, or they only develop a rash with no other symptoms
FACT 3
MONKEYPOX ISN’T ALWAYS FATAL, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN WE SHOULD TAKE IT LIGHTLY

Monkeypox has a recorded fatality rate of 1% to 10%.

Without any treatment given, the disease can usually resolve on its own between 2 and 4 weeks.

However, some people with monkeypox may develop severe complications, especially if they have existing health conditions or are undergoing treatments that weaken their immune system. These people will need hospitalization and close medical care.

FACT 4
MONKEYPOX CAN BE SPREAD THROUGH CLOSE & PROLONGED SKIN-TO-SKIN CONTACT

Prof James emphasizes that it is important to remember that transmission requires prolonged exposure to the infected person.

Brushing against someone in a crowded place, for example, or quickly kissing someone are unlikely to cause transmission.

So, what are the more likely means of transmission that we should be aware of?

  1. Direct contact with the rash or body fluids of someone with monkeypox—note that this includes not just oral or penetrative sex but also touching, kissing and other face-to-face contact, hugging, massaging, and other intimate acts with the infected person
  2. Prolonged contact with items that are or have been used by someone with monkeypox, such as clothing, bedding, towels, etc.
  3. Prolonged exposure to the person’s respiratory secretions, which are produced when they talk, sneeze, cough, etc
  4. An infected pregnant woman may spread the virus to the child she is carrying
  5. It is also possible that one may contract monkeypox from eating poorly-cooked meat of infected animals, or from scratches and bites of infected animals

Someone with monkeypox can spread the virus from the time they develop their symptoms until the rash is fully healed.

FACT 5
MONKEYPOX IS NOT A ‘GAY PERSON’S DISEASE’—IT CAN AFFECT ANYONE AND EVERYONE

While it is certainly true that monkeypox currently affects a large population of men who have sex with men (MSM), it will be a mistake to assume that it is a disease that affects only these men.

As we have seen, the virus can spread through other means other than sex, so people that don’t engage in acts of intimacy with members of their own sex shouldn’t be complacent and assume that they are safe from it!

FACT 6
YES, THE SMALLPOX VACCINE MAY HELP, BUT THINGS ARE NOT SO STRAIGHTFORWARD

While smallpox and monkeypox are two different diseases, Prof James notes that the smallpox vaccine can help reduce the risk of catching the monkeypox by up to five times.

“Most Malaysians born before 1980 are vaccinated against smallpox as part of the National Immunisation Programme of that time,” Prof James notes.

Unfortunately, smallpox vaccines are not readily available. Therefore preventive strategies are important.

Click on the image to see the large version.

References:

  1. Ladnyj, I. D., Ziegler, P., & Kima, E. (1972). A human infection caused by monkeypox virus in Basankusu Territory, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 46(5), 593–597. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2480792/
  2. Thornhill, J. P., Barkati, S., Walmsley, S., Rockstroh, J., Antinori, A., Harrison, L. B., Palich, R., Nori, A., Reeves, I., Habibi, M. S., Apea, V., Boesecke, C., Vandekerckhove, L., Yakubovsky, M., Sendagorta, E., Blanco, J. L., Florence, E., Moschese, D., Maltez, F. M., Goorhuis, A., … SHARE-net Clinical Group (2022). Monkeypox virus infection in humans across 16 countries – April-June 2022. The New England journal of medicine, 10.1056/NEJMoa2207323. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2207323

Must-Know Facts about Respiratory Syncytial Virus

WORDS DR LEE ONN LOY

DR LEE ONN LOY
Paediatrician
Mahkota Medical Centre
WHAT IS RESPIRATORY SYNCYTIAL VIRUS? 

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV for short) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild flu-like symptoms, except in infants and elderly people.

There are two sub types of RSV, RSV-A and RSV-B, which co-circulate during the same season with alternating predominance.

However, we do not test for sub types in Malaysia, mainly because we do not have seasonal weather and there is no difference in disease severity between the two sub types.

WHO ARE MOST AT RISK WHEN IT COMES TO GETTING INFECTED?

Children are more prone to be infected due to their immature immune systems and first exposure to the virus.

They are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home such as in daycare centres or school.

WHO ARE MOST AT RISK OF DEVELOPING SEVERE COMPLICATIONS?

People who are at higher risk of severe RSV disease are:

  • Prematurely born infants
  • Children with congenital heart disease or chronic lung disease such as asthma
  • Children with compromised or weakened immune systems either due to medical conditions or medical treatments
  • Adults with compromised immune systems
  • Elderly people with existing health problems or co-morbidities
HOW DO I KNOW IF I MAY HAVE CAUGHT RSV?

Symptoms of RSV are just like those of normal flu, such as:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Wheezing and difficulty in breathing

Consult a doctor if you or a family member show these symptoms.

HOW IS RSV TREATED?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for RSV.

We usually treat it with paracetamol and antihistamines.

If a child catches the virus, the doctor will monitor the child to ensure that they are eating and drinking well.

When there is no improvements seen, and when one becomes lethargic and develops wheezing and breathlessness, they should be admitted for fluid infusion, regular nebuliser therapy, and oxygen when necessary.

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO PROTECT THEIR CHILDREN FROM RSV?

Firstly, we should know how RSV can spread. Common ways of transmission are:

  • When an infected person coughs or sneezes, and the virus droplets find their way into your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • When you touch a surface that has the virus on it like doorknobs, and then touch your face before washing your hands
  • When you have direct contact with an infected person, such as kissing the face of a child with RSV

There are a few things parents can do to protect their children against RSV such as:

  • Keeping them away from close contact with sick people
  • Teach them and encourage them to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Teach them to avoid touching their face with unwashed hands
  • Don’t send your unwell kid to school or centres, and limit the time children spend in child care centres during outbreaks if possible
CAN ONE DEVELOP RSV, FLU, AND COVID-19 ALL AT THE SAME TIME?

Yes, but this is not common. Should it happen, though, the complications are going to be very severe with a high risk of death!

Hence, people should go for influenza vaccinations yearly, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immunise2Protect Campaign Urges Parents to Protect Their Children against Chickenpox

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

While Malaysians these days are fully aware of the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, the Immunise2Protect campaign urges parents not to overlook other important childhood vaccinations for their children, particularly the chickenpox vaccine.

Immunise2Protect is organized by Immunise4Life, an expert-driven community education initiative to promote immunisation against vaccine-preventable diseases and to address issues surrounding vaccination hesitancy and refusal. This initiative is a collaborative effort of the Ministry of Health Malaysia, the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) and the Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases & Chemotherapy (MSIDC).

WHY VACCINATE OUR CHILDREN AGAINST CHICKENPOX?

Contrary to the still popular perception that chickenpox is a harmless bother, it can lead to dangerous complications that require hospitalisation or may even result in death.

Even the act of scratching the itchy lesions can lead to secondary bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissue.

Children with eczema or dermatitis may develop severe skin symptoms when they contract chickenpox.

Additionally, chickenpox may also cause infection of the lungs (varicella pneumonia), inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia) and infection of the liver (hepatitis).

Another cause of concern is that once a child has caught chickenpox, the Varicella-zoster virus that causes the infection will continue to stay in an inactivated state in their spinal cord.

Later in life, as the child’s immune system weakens with age or stress, this virus can be reactivated to cause a very painful infection called shingles.

BENEFITS OF THE VACCINATION

The chickenpox vaccination helps prevent chickenpox.

Some people that are vaccinated against chickenpox may still get the disease. When that happens, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer or no blisters (they may have just red spots) and mild or no fever.

The chickenpox vaccination also helps protect from the serious complications that require hospitalisation.

Please Take This Short Survey about COVID-19 Vaccination and Your Child

WORDS ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR ERWIN KHOO JIAYUAN

The survey is now closed. All parties involved would like to express their gratitude to everyone that participated in the study.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR ERWIN KHOO JIAYUAN
Consultant Paediatrician
Department of Paediatrics
School of Medicine
International Medical University (IMU)
IT CAN BE CHALLENGING FOR A PARENT TO DETERMINE FACTS FROM FICTION WHEN IT COMES TO NEWS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Netizens who are vaccine hesitant have an alarming footprint on social media. In a vicious cycle, their hesitance is likely to be fueled by health (mis)information obtained from a variety of sources, including news media such as the Internet and social media platforms.

As access to technology has improved, social media has attained global penetration. In contrast to traditional media, social media allow individuals to rapidly create and share content globally without editorial oversight. Users may self-select content streams, contributing to ideological isolation. As such, there are considerable public health concerns.

These worries may be magnified in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As the development and subsequent deployment of more vaccines are expected to play a critical role in downstream emerging pandemic control efforts, social media will remain a powerful tool. Most concerning is how (mis)information and (un)substantiated reports on its platforms will threaten to erode public confidence even well before the release of any scientific evidence.

It is not readily evident why social media is so disproportionately successful in promoting vaccine hesitancy as opposed to uptake. Social media users may represent a skewed population sample with baseline misperceptions regarding the benefits and side effects of vaccination whilst simultaneously lacking familiarity with the consequences of vaccine-preventable disease. Moreover, when evaluating the risks and benefits of vaccination in general, the risks may be overestimated and may seem more immediate, and tangible as compared to the more abstract potential benefits of disease prevention.

IF YOU ARE A PARENT WITH A CHILD UNDER 18, PLEASE SPEND 15 MINUTES TO HELP US BETTER UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION

SOcial MEdia on HesitAncy in Vaccine E-survey or in short, SOMEHAVE, is a multinational collaborative study between International Medical University (IMU), the Singapore’s National University Health System (NUHS), National University of Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Malaya (UM)

The study uses unidentified e-survey for parents with the aim of seeking the impact of social media on vaccine hesitancy.

For the English survey form, please click here (link opens in a new tab).

For the Bahasa Malaysia version, please click here (link also opens in a new tab).

[IRB Ref No: IMU R 279/2021, UKM PPI/111/8/JEP-2021-824, NHG DSRB (Singapore) Ref: 2021/00900]