Why Is the Dengue Vaccine Needed? An Associate Professor Answers More Questions About the Vaccine

WORDS ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR VERNA LEE KAR MUN

FEATURED EXPERT
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR VERNA LEE KAR MUN
Family Medicine Specialist
IMU Healthcare
WHY IS THE QDENGA VACCINE NECESSARY? WE ALREADY HAVE PREVENTIVE MEASURES SUCH AS FOGGING TO PREVENT THE AEDES MOSQUITO FROM BREEDING.

Fogging is effective in killing the Aedes mosquitoes. Its effect is immediate, extending to an average of 72 hours.

Fogging Works, but There Are Some Drawbacks

While fogging has been the main means to mitigate dengue infection in Malaysia, however, health offices are usually informed after the infection have been notified. As a result, fogging by itself does not reduce severe dengue infection that requires hospitalizations.

Furthermore, the resistance of the Aedes mosquitoes to insecticides is increasing. This decreases the effectiveness of fogging to control the population of these mosquitoes.

The Role of Dengue Vaccines

On the other hand, dengue vaccines have been proven to be effective in reducing the numbers of severe dengue infection requiring hospitalizations.

THERE WAS SOME CONTROVERSY WITH REGARDS TO THE SAFETY PROFILE OF THE PREVIOUS DENGUE VACCINE. SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED ABOUT THE QDENGA VACCINE?

Just like any new drug or new medical technology, there is very limited data from clinical practice in the early days. There would be many concerns.

Dengvaxia, the First Dengue Vaccine

The first dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, was approved in April 2018.

It is safe in persons who have had dengue virus infection in the past (seropositive individuals), but it also increases the risk of severe dengue in those who experience their first natural dengue infection after receiving their vaccination (seronegative individuals).

Hence, pre-vaccination screening for past dengue infection is recommended before one receives the Dengvaxia vaccine. Only people with evidence of past dengue infection—indicated by the presence of dengue IgG antibody in their blood—would receive this vaccination.

About the Newest Vaccine, Qdenga

A second vaccine for dengue, Qdenga, received prequalification from the World Health Organization (WHO) on 10 May 2024.

Is it safe?

  • Overall, during the clinical trials, the vaccine was well tolerated. The most frequent reported vaccine-related adverse events were injection site itchiness, bruising, and fever.
  • An excess of hospitalized dengue virus serotype 3 (DENV3) infections was reported among baseline seronegative children, but it was not statistically significant.
  • There was also an excess of cases of severe dengue among seronegative vaccinees, all of which were caused by DENV3, but, again, the difference was not statistically significant.
  • An increase in the risk of dengue infection requiring hospitalization or severe dengue due to DENV3 in vaccinated seronegative subjects cannot be conclusively ruled out. We probably need to wait for more data.

How about allergy reactions?

During the clinical trial, no cases of severe allergy reaction or anaphylaxis were observed.

However, cases of anaphylaxis associated with this new vaccine occurred following the vaccine’s introduction to children between the age of 10 and 14 years in Brazil since February 2024, with 16 cases were reported (4.4/100,000 doses administered), including 3 cases of anaphylactic shock (0.8/100 000 doses administered).

The currently approved package insert for the vaccine describes precautionary measures to mitigate the risk of anaphylaxis. A full assessment of the national immunization programme is underway.

THE QDENGA VACCINE IS SAID TO BE ABLE TO IMMUNIZE AGAINST ALL FOUR SEROTYPES OF DENGUE VIRUS. WHY IS THIS A GOOD THING?

Dengue viruses belong to the genus Flavivirus.


The dengue virus. Click on the image for a larger, clearer version.


Flaviviruses are lipid-enveloped, single-stranded RNA viruses. The structural pre-membrane (prM) and envelope (E) proteins are embedded in the lipid envelope and are displayed on the surface of virions.

There are 4 dengue virus serotypes (DENV1, DENV2, DENV3, and DENV4); the serotypes share structural proteins (prM and E) but are genetically and serologically distinct.

Infection with 1 serotype induces sustained protection against the same serotype only. Although uncommon, an individual without a vaccine can be infected by each serotype for a total of 4 infections during their lifetime.

Serotypes and Infections

People who acquire a second dengue infection caused by a different serotype are at a higher risk for severe dengue once cross-protection induced by the first infection wanes.

Potential mechanisms for increased risk of severe dengue caused by a second infection include:

  • Cross-reactive antibodies binding to a different DENV serotype, which then enable uptake in inflammatory cells. This leads to higher and more prolonged virus count in the blood circulation (higher temperature and prolonged fever) that induces imbalanced pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses often referred to as antibody-dependent enhancement.
  • The action of the non-structural protein 1 (NS1) on the blood vessel wall or endothelium can trigger the release of active chemicals from immune cells.
  • Both the above will result in endothelial hyperpermeability and vascular leak (leading to hypovolemic shock and bleeding).

How the Vaccine Is Beneficial

Both dengue vaccines are tetravalent live-attenuated vaccines.

The new vaccine, Qdenga, induces a broad spectrum of immune responses which include:

  • Neutralizing antibodies with a 50% reduction against all 4 dengue virus serotypes.
  • Cross-reactive antibodies that block the activity of the NS1 protein.
  • Type-specific memory B cells to all four serotypes.

This means the vaccine can protect us from severe dengue infection by all the 4 serotypes. This is a good thing.

Expert Answers All the Important Questions You Have about the New Dengue Vaccine

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON



With the Qdenga® dengue vaccine officially launched by pharmaceutical company Takeda Malaysia in Malaysia on 11 June 2024, we manage to get some important answers from Dr Goh Choo Beng about dengue and this vaccine.

FEATURED EXPERT
DR GOH CHOO BENG
Head of Medical Affairs
Takeda India & Southeast Asia
What does it do?

Prevention of dengue caused by any of the 4 dengue serotypes.

The clinical trial of the vaccine found that it can:

  • Prevent 80.2% of symptomatic dengue cases at 12 months after receiving the vaccination.
  • Prevent 90.4% of hospitalizations at 18 months after vaccination.
Who can receive the vaccine?

Qdenga® can be administered to individuals 4 years old and above.

How many doses do I need?

Two doses. The second dose will be given three months after the first dose.

Where can I get it?

Currently it’s available at general practitioner or GP clinics as well as private hospitals.

How much is the vaccine?

The price will be set by the clinic or the hospital, so it’s best to consult them about the price.

How does this vaccine work?

Dr Goh explains that the Qdenga® vaccine has a backbone that is based on the live-attenuated DENV2 serotype of the dengue virus, with recombinant strains expressing surface proteins for DENV1, DENV3 and DENV4.

This way, the vaccine will protect an individual from all 4 dengue serotypes.

Is it safe for individuals that have not contracted dengue before?

Yes. People that have no history of dengue fever as well as people that have had dengue can safely receive the vaccine.

No blood tests are necessary before receiving the vaccine.

What are the side effects?

Short term side effects are common ones associated with vaccination, such as redness and soreness at site of injection. These side effects are mild and temporary.

At the time of writing, there is an ongoing clinical trial that is monitoring and closely following selected individuals that have received the vaccine since about 4.5 years ago. So far, the investigators have found that:

  • The protection afforded by the vaccine persists 4.5 years after receiving the vaccine.
  • There is no long-term serious side effect seen so far.

A Neurologist Discusses the Link Between COVID-19, Younger Adults, and Stroke

WORDS DR JOYCE PAULINE JOSEPH

FEATURED EXPERT
DR JOYCE PAULINE JOSEPH
Consultant Neurologist
Aurelius Hospital Nilai

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the physiological landscape of individuals around the globe. The virus has demonstrated its ability to traverse various bodily functions, leaving a trail of physiological changes in its wake. From the intricate dynamics of the immune response to cardiovascular issues, COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented impacts on human health in various ways.

But what are the correlations, if any, between COVID-19 and an increase in stroke incidences especially amongst the young? In light of the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in Malaysia again, we attempt to investigate the links.

THE LINK TO STROKE

Traditionally, when we speak about strokes, it tends to be an “elderly persons” disease, a health concern prevalent amongst those aged 50 and above.

However, over the past 3 years since the first outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, a worrying connection has emerged between the virus and incidences of strokes in younger individuals.

COVID-19 is associated with a higher risk of stroke, a majority of them being ischaemic strokes caused by a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

A study suggested a connection between the high prevalence of vascular risk factors and concurrent elevation of proinflammatory and procoagulation biomarkers in this.

In the same study, it has been proposed that the virus that causes COVID-19 infects the cells that line the inside of the blood vessels.

These infected cells release several pro-inflammatory factors that attract other immune cells to the affected area.

In turn, this leads to damage to the lining cells, activating platelets and other factors involved in clotting.

This chain of events eventually increases the risk of a blood clot that could potentially travel up to the brain and cause a stroke.

Hypercoagulability and inflammatory response cause vascular complications, increasing the risk of strokes, regardless of age.

Findings from another large-scale study suggested that COVID-19 is a risk factor for deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and bleeding.

The risk of developing blood clots in the lungs and legs is significantly elevated for up to 6 months upon contracting COVID-19.

After the initial 30 days of infection, individuals afflicted with COVID-19 displayed heightened susceptibilities and endured a year-long burden of newly emerging cardiovascular conditions.

These conditions range from cerebrovascular issues and dysrhythmias to inflammatory heart disease, ischaemic heart disease, heart failure, thromboembolic disease, and assorted cardiac disorders.

Strikingly, these risks manifested consistently across various demographic factors, such as age, race, and gender, as well as other established cardiovascular risk factors like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and hyperlipidemia.

Notably, even those without any pre-existing cardiovascular conditions prior to exposure to COVID-19 exhibited these risks, suggesting a propensity for these complications to manifest in individuals traditionally considered at low risk for cardiovascular diseases.

IN SUMMARY

The data and evidence gathered do point to a heightened risk of stroke brought about by COVID-19, regardless of age.

Even though it remains an uncommon occurrence, it remains a risk especially for individuals pre-existing health conditions that are known to boost the risk of stroke.

While the correlation between incidences of stroke, COVID-19 and how it affects younger individuals remains a subject of ongoing research and study, it remains crucial in recognizing the potential risks and taking appropriate and proactive measures.


References:

  1. Mbonde, A. A., O’Carroll, C. B., Grill, M. F., Zhang, N., Butterfield, R., & Demaerschalk, B. M. (2022). Stroke features, risk factors, and pathophysiology in SARS-CoV-2-infected patients. Mayo Clinic proceedings. Innovations, quality & outcomes, 6(2), 156–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocpiqo.2022.01.003
  2. Xie, Y., Xu, E., Bowe, B., & Al-Aly, Z. (2022). Long-term cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19. Nature medicine, 28(3), 583–590. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-022-01689-3

Tuberculosis Cases Are Rising in Malaysia. An Expert Shares What You Should Know & Do About This

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

FEATURED EXPERT
DR ROSMADI ISMAIL
Consultant Interventional Pulmonologist and Internal Medicine Specialist
Sunway Medical Centre

Quite recently, our Minister of Health Dr Zaliha Mustafa revealed at the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting that there was a concerning increase of 17% in tuberculosis cases in 2022 compared to 2021, along with a 12% increase in tuberculosis-related deaths during that time period.

In light of this development, Dr Rosmadi Ismail shares his thoughts with us about tuberculosis, its detection, treatment, and prevention.


Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) infecting the lungs as well as certain other parts of the body.


An overview of the symptoms and preventive measures of tuberculosis. Click on the image for a larger, clearer view.


IS DETECTION OF TUBERCULOSIS GETTING BETTER?

Dr Rosmadi reveals that there are several innovative techniques currently undergoing clinical trials in a few countries.

These techniques, which include biosensing technologies and nano-diagnostics, promise quicker and more accurate results.

He shares: “Ongoing research focuses on innovative methods like computer-aided detection (CAD) through artificial intelligence, aerosol capture technologies, and antigen-based skin tests. They are poised to revolutionise TB diagnosis, enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in the future.”

In Malaysia, there are diverse methods employed to ensure accurate and timely detection of tuberculosis, such as:

  • Sputum smear microscopy, typically the first test for tuberculosis.
  • Culture and sensitivity testing to diagnose tuberculosis.
  • Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) to facilitate the identification of tuberculosis cases.
  • Chest radiography and clinical tests like the Tuberculin Skin Test (TST) to confirming the infection.

TREATMENT OF TUBERCULOSIS

Treatment of tuberculosis in Malaysia follows the World Health Organization guidelines, which is the global standard.

Dr Rosmadi tells us, “The standard treatment for drug-susceptible tuberculosis in Malaysia involves a combination of four drugs administered for a duration of 6 to 8 months.”

Treatment utilizes the Directly Observed Treatment (DOT) strategy, which sees the patients receiving close supervision from healthcare workers to ensure that they complete their medication intake.

Currently, there are no new medications or treatments that show superior results over current ones when it comes to treating tuberculosis. Dr Rosmadi notes that treatment for drug-resistant TB involves a distinct medication regimen and extended treatment duration.

“This tailored approach has proven effective even in cases of drug-resistant TB, reinforcing our commitment to comprehensive patient care,” he says.

DR ROSMADI’S TUBERCULOSIS TIPS 
  • Stay clear of crowded places. It’s best to avoid crowds, especially if they’re poorly ventilated.
  • If you’re experiencing a persistent cough, fever, or unexpected weight loss, seek medical help promptly. This will help you get better and stop the disease from spreading.
  • Get checked if you’re at risk. If you have a weak immune system or have been around people with tuberculosis, consider getting tested. It’s a simple step that can catch the disease early if exposed.
  • If you’re diagnosed with tuberculosis, completing your treatment is essential. P
  • Preventive measures such as wearing a mask, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and disposing of tissues properly can help protect yourself and those around you.
  • If your job puts you in contact with many people, wear the proper protective gear as an added layer of safety.
  • Think about getting vaccinated. The current vaccine, Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG), offers partial protection to infants and young children against severe forms of tuberculosis. It doesn’t protect adolescents and adults that are the primary carriers of the tuberculosis bacteria, but it could help in the long run.

Experts & Parents Come Together to Raise Awareness of Respiratory Syncytial Virus

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

On 4 September 2023, the Pertubuhan Kumpulan Sokongan Ibu Bapa Dan Bayi Pramatang Malaysia (BPM) and the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy partnered to organize a media roundtable called Taking a Closer Look at RSV.

RSV is short for respiratory syncytial virus, one of the most prevalent viruses that infect the respiratory system of mostly children below 3.

FEATURED EXPERT
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR ADLI ALI

Head of Clinical Immunology
UKM Children’s Specialist Hospital

“RSV is a disease that has been around for a long time, yet the number of cases is still high. The actual burden of the disease is not known from the economic impact on the healthcare system which includes admission costs, utilization of respiratory supports, as well the economic and social impact on the family of patients. Therefore, prevention is very important in addressing the further progression of the disease in the country.”

FEATURED EXPERT
AZRUL ABDUL KHALIB
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy

“With the varied guidelines on prevention, we need to prioritize and respond with more urgency to RSV which can have a life-long impact. Parents, caregivers and the community at large need to understand the severity of the disease, how it can affect the future of our nation and what can be done to address them immediately.”

Azrul also called for more streamlined guidelines for RSV prevention and to ensure the channels for parents to seek support and financial aid for their children are made more accessible.

Furthermore, increased availability of preventive options would help reduce mortality and save children’s lives.

 

Michelle Yeoh Joins Local Healthcare NGOs in Rallying Malaysians Against COVID-19

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

On 17 August 2023, the Malaysian Society of Infection Control and Infectious Disease (MyICID), the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM), and the Malaysian Red Crescent (MRCS), in collaboration with Pfizer Malaysia, launched the MyPELINDUNG campaign.

WHAT’S MyPELINDUNG?

It’s a public educational campaign aimed at mitigating the threat of COVID-19 in Malaysia by increasing the awareness levels of Malaysians on the importance of up-to-date vaccination and seeking of prompt COVID-19-specific treatment.

Among the luminaries gracing the launch were:

  • Her Highness Dato’ Seri DiRaja Tan Sri Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz binti Almarhum Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, Tunku Temenggong Kedah, who is the National Chairperson of the Malaysian Red Crescent
  • Datuk Dr Norhayati Rusli, Deputy Director-General of Public Health, Ministry of Health
  • Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Michelle Yeoh, Oscar-winning actress
  • Dr Shaharudeen Bin Kamaludeen, the President of MyICID
  • Dato Dr. Saunthari Somasundaram, the President of NCSM
  • Professor Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, the Chairman of Immunise4Life
  • Madam Luksanawan Thangpaibool, the Country Cluster Lead of Pfizer Malaysia, Pakistan and Brunei
A PRINCESS’S WORD OF WISDOM

“Just as it takes many drops to form an ocean, our shared actions—however small they may seem —can create significant impact in the fight against COVID-19,” says Yang Teramat Mulia Dato’ Seri Diraja Tan Sri Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz.

She adds: “It’s through initiatives like MyPELINDUNG that we can harness our collective strength to navigate this health issue. Together, with the strength of unity and shared responsibility, we can contribute to a healthier, safer nation for all Malaysians.”

WAIT, ISN’T COVID-19 OLD NEWS?

Not so! Yes, Malaysia has made significant strides but the virus responsible for COVID-19 continues to circulate in our communities and can still lead to hospitalizations and even death, especially among high-risk groups.

Hence, the experts driving MyPELINDUNG advocates constant vigilance, updating of COVID-19 vaccinations, adherence to recommended health measures, and prompt seeking of COVID-19-specific treatment if one is tested positive.

VACCINATION IS KEY, EXPERTS SAY

MyPELINDUNG aims to reduce public hesitancy around the COVID-19 booster doses by disseminating scientifically-accurate information and addressing common concerns held by Malaysians about these boosters.

The campaign’s efforts will particularly focus on high-risk groups, as up-to-date vaccination (including booster doses) can reduce their risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Dr Shaharudeen Kamaludeen, President of MyICID, tells us: “It’s paramount that we understand the critical role vaccinations play in mitigating the severity of COVID-19. Vaccinations, including recommended booster doses, are our primary line of defence against this virus.

He also adds that prompt medical consultation and treatment after a positive test for COVID-19 are equally vital.

Professor Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, the Chairman of Immunise4Life, further emphasizes the importance of maintaining one’s up-to-date vaccination status.

“Full vaccination significantly reduces the risk of severe disease outcomes,” he says. “We urge everyone, particularly those in high-risk groups, to consider vaccinations as their personal shield against the virus, and to remember that this shield is most robust when all recommended doses, including boosters, have been administered.”

THE ACTRESS ADVOCATES

Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Michelle Yeoh concurs with the experts, adding that she herself had 2 brushes with the COVID-19 vaccine.

She participated in an educational video for MyPELINDUNG, a video that she is very proud of, and will continue to commit to encouraging Malaysians to remain vigilant and take the appropriate protective steps against COVID-19.

“Trust the science,” she urges.

PROMPT & QUICK TREATMENT CAN SAVE LIVES

“The most important thing to remember about treatment for COVID-19 is that it should be started as soon as possible after diagnosis to be effective,” states Dato Dr Saunthari Somasundram. “If you test positive for COVID-19, treatments are available that can reduce the likelihood of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Please don’t delay because COVID-19 specific treatment must be started within days after you first develop symptoms to be effective.”

Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh concurs. “On screen, I’ve navigated flying stunts and leapt off moving vehicles, but life isn’t an action film, and we can’t afford to wait for the dramatic last-minute rescue. If you’re showing any symptoms, act fast, seek help at once.”

For more information about the MyPELINDUNG initiative and its efforts to combat COVID-19, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MyPELINDUNG (link opens in a new tab).

Is Tuberculosis Still a Disease That We Should Be Worried About?

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

FEATURED EXPERT
PROFESSOR DR JAMES KOH KWEE CHOY
Head of Division of Medicine
School of Medicine
International Medical University (IMU)

Tuberculosis, often abbreviated as TB, has been around for a long time. In fact, it was known as “consumption” back in the 1800s.

Perhaps this is what many of us rarely spare this disease a thought unlike, say, dengue and COVID-19.

WHAT CAUSES TUBERCULOSIS

It is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

TUBERCULOSIS CAN ATTACK DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE BODY

“It can attack different parts of the body, with the lungs–referred to as pulmonary tuberculosis– being the most common,” says Professor Dr James Koh Kwee Choy,

These different parts of the body include the lymph nodes and bones (usually the spine), in rare cases in the gut. The bacteria can also attack the brains of people with suppressed immune system, such as those living with HIV. Such cases of tuberculosis are called extrapulmonary tuberculosis (EPTB for short).

Symptoms and prevention of tuberculosis. Click on the image to view a larger, clearer version.
WHO IS AT RISK OF CATCHING THIS DISEASE?

According to Prof James, the most susceptible groups of people are:

  • The elderly
  • People with lowered immunity, including young children whose immune system is still developing
  • People with suppressed immune system, such as those on chronic steroid therapy and people living with HIV
  • People living in overcrowded living spaces, such as the poor and migrant workers, as this close proximity makes it easy for the bacteria to be passed on from person to person
HOW EASILY DOES TUBERCULOSIS SPREAD?

Similarly to all respiratory diseases, it is spread by water droplets that come from coughing or spitting.

However, the bacteria responsible for this disease need to be in significant amount in water droplets for the disease to spread.

“You have to be in quite close contact and in a situation where there’s prolonged exposure. Generally, more than eight hours a day,” says Prof James.

It is also worth noting that the bacteria can become dormant in the body of the host, and someone with dormant bacteria will not pass the bacteria on to others.

Similarly, people with only extrapulmonary tuberculosis—the infection doesn’t affect their lungs—will not spread the bacteria to other people.

THE SYMPTOMS OF TUBERCULOSIS

Detecting tuberculosis at its early stage can be challenging because the symptoms may not show immediately.

“You could have been exposed long ago, and the bacteria will stay latent or dormant in the body and hibernate. Symptoms can come up months or even years later,” says Prof James.

SYMPTOMS OF PULMONARY TUBERCULOSIS (TUBERCULOSIS IN THE LUNGS)
  • Chronic cough
  • Profuse sweating at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Recurrent rise in body temperature in the evenings
SYMPTOMS OF EXTRAPULMONARY TUBERCULOSIS (TUBERCULOSIS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE BODY)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chronic back pain and fragile bones
  • A sensitive gut and
  • Seizures, headaches, confusion and even alterations in personality if the brain is infected
WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE TUBERCULOSIS

“Don’t wait to cough up blood,” says Prof James. “See a doctor if you have had a persistent cough for two weeks!”

Also see a doctor if you have unexplained night sweats and weight loss together with swollen lymph nodes or chronic back pain.

“If you are aware that you’ve been exposed to someone with TB, someone you share a working or living space with, then you might also want to see a doctor to be screened,” Prof James adds.

HOW IS THIS DISEASE TREATED?

Treatment is straightforward, but can take place over a long period of time.

Once the treatment is started, a person will be non-infective in ten to 14 days. In hospitals, a patient will be put in isolation but there is no prescribed quarantine period. “The most important thing is to wear a mask and wash your hands frequently,” Prof James says.

Antibiotics to overcome tuberculosis

A combination of 4 antibiotics will be prescribed for a period of 6 months to a year, depending on which part of the body is affected,” explains Prof James.

There are newer medications can potentially treat tuberculosis within 3 months, but Prof James shares that, unfortunately, they are not yet available in Malaysia. “At the moment, we’re still using the old regime,” he says.

It is crucial to take these antibiotics on time and as prescribed by the doctor

Otherwise, the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotics. “This can escalate into extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) – or what is commonly known as superbugs!” Prof James warns.

“Those with MDR/XDR TB can spread it to others and unfortunately for that someone, because the bacteria is already resistant, it becomes very hard to treat. These cases will need a lot of alternative medications involving injections and much longer therapy for up to 2 years. It gets very, very complicated,” he further explains.

WHY ARE WE STILL CONCERNED ABOUT TUBERCULOSIS? WE ALREADY HAVE THE BCG VACCINE TO PROTECT US FROM IT

The Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG for short) vaccine is given to Malaysians when they are babies and at primary school.

While the vaccine confers protection against tuberculosis, its effectiveness decreases over the years,

“By the time we are adults, many of us no longer have immunity against the disease,” says Prof James.

Tuberculosis cases in Malaysia are on the rise

Malaysia is still considered a country with a high incidence rate, estimated at 92 per 100,000 population. Prof James reveals that we have about 20,000 to 25,000 new cases every year, with an average of 1,500 to 2,000 resulting deaths.

Interestingly, the number of cases went down during the lock down, when we were wearing masks and practicing social distancing as well as movement control orders. It is when the SOPs are relaxed that the number of cases is up again.

CAN’T WE JUST GET A BOOSTER SHOT?

Sadly, there is no such booster shot currently in existence!

Prof James advises that the best way to keep tuberculosis at bay is to ensure a healthy lifestyle. “Generally, a person who is healthy with a good immune system should be able to fight off TB on their own.”

It is also important to be aware of the symptoms and seek early treatment. “If left for too long, even after recovery, tuberculosis can leave scarring on the lungs that will forever curb a person’s lung capacity,” Prof James states.


Also, it is equally important to stay healthy after recovering from tuberculosis. “Maintain a good diet, exercise, don’t smoke. You can get re-infected with TB and that can be quite bad,” says Prof James.

5 Popular Dengue Myths Debunked by a Family Medicine Specialist

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

FEATURED EXPERT
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR VERNA LEE KAR MUN
Family Medicine Specialist
International Medical University (IMU)
Myth 1
YOU ONLY CATCH DENGUE ONCE IN YOUR LIFETIME 

Unfortunately, no.

“There are 4 dengue serotypes,” says Associate Professor Dr Verna Lee Kar Mun.

Serotype is a word used to describe a strain of microorganism, which means that there are 4 different types of the dengue virus that can infect us.

This means that each of us can get infected up to 4 times, once with each serotype, and achieve total immunity to dengue only after being infected with all 4 serotypes!

“However, before you start thinking it’s a good idea to get infected four times, bear in mind that subsequent infections are likely to be more serious than the first,” warns Assoc Prof Dr Verna, “and each infection only increases your chances of getting severe dengue.”

Myth 2
YOU’RE GETTING BETTER WHEN YOUR FEVER GOES AWAY

Well, things are not so simple.

You see, according to Assoc Prof Dr Verna, there are 3 different stages of dengue fever.

  • Febrile phase: 1 to 2 days of high fever that begins suddenly. During this time, we’re likely to have experience aches, headache with pain behind the eyes, flushed faces, and sometimes blotchy skin or rashes.
  • Critical phase: the fever subsides, and we may feel that we are getting better. However, these 1 to 2 days are also a period when our blood capillaries may leak plasma, leading to a sudden drop in blood pressure and sending us into shock.
  • The next phase will depend on the outcome of the critical phase. We may get better after receiving proper medical treatment and proceed to the recovery phase, or we may get worse and experience severe dengue instead.

“Many viral illnesses such as dengue are self-limiting, which means they will naturally subside,” Assoc Prof Dr Verna shares. “In most cases, patients only need self-care at home, and the most important thing to remember is to take plenty of fluids to prevent the dehydration that comes with plasma leakage.”

“Anyone who gets dengue fever should aim to drink at least 3 litres of water daily for the first 3 days,” she adds.

Myth 3
DENGUE IS ONLY A SMALL CONCERN; AFTER ALL, YOU CAN GET BETTER FROM PRACTICING SELF CARE AT HOME

Not necessarily true.

“An estimated 1% of patients will experience severe dengue, also known as haemorrhagic dengue, which will require hospitalization,” says Assoc Prof Dr Verna.

She goes on to explain that one may begin to experience bleeding during the febrile phase, usually in the skin or gums. If the bleeding weren’t managed well, the dengue will worsen during the critical phase, forcing us to be admitted into the hospital.

“Those with a healthy immune system usually recover in 2 days, but if there is inflammation affecting the organs such as the heart, liver or brain, it can take up to a week, longer if there are other complications,” she goes on to say.

Myth 4
YOU SHOULD ONLY TEST FOR DENGUE AFTER 3 DAYS 

“It is true that the initial symptoms are vague, as a fever can be a sign of many different illnesses,” says Assoc Prof Dr Verna.

However, with dengue, the high fever usually comes suddenly.

“The S1 dengue rapid antigen test can detect dengue from the first day, so don’t delay seeking medical advice if you suddenly develop a high fever,” she advises.

Delay in getting tested may lead to severe consequences, as we will enter the critical phase 1 to 2 days after catching dengue—a time when our condition can suddenly take a turn for the worse!

Myth 5
ONCE YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD HAS BEEN FOGGED, THERE IS NO NEED TO DO ANYTHING ELSE TO PREVENT DENGUE

Not true.

Assoc Prof Dr Verna reveals that while fogging helps to kill adult mosquitoes and getting rid of stagnant water in public drains and other places helps to prevent breeding sites, this method are only partially effective.

To illustrate, millions are spent on fogging efforts every year—an estimated RM777 million was spent on fogging efforts in the 2009 to 2010 period—but dengue remains prevalent to this day. There is even evidence that mosquitoes have grown resistant to the common insecticides used in fogging!

“On a personal level, all of us can do something at home to help prevent mosquito bites and breeding sites. We need to make a bigger effort to protect ourselves and our loved ones by making sure our home environment is clear of any breeding sites, covering up exposed skin and using mosquito repellents, especially during sunrise and sundown,” she advises.

Expert Coalition to Educate Malaysians & Prevent Another COVID-19 Surge

PRESS RELEASE
COVID-19 IS STILL A THREAT

As we welcomed 2023, China reported a huge spike in daily COVID-19 cases during the end of year holiday seasons 2022.

After a period of pandemic fatigue and indifference, the event sparked sudden and short-lived fear and caution among the global as well as Malaysian community.

The news triggered some Malaysians to be up in arms, calling for a ban on travelers from China and reinforcement of pandemic SOPs such as the mandatory wearing of mask in public areas.

Nonetheless, the interest soon died down as other headlines made their way in the news.

It appears that it is only when crises are about to hit our shores that we react.

In fact, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), we need to always be prepared and cannot afford to be reactive.

On January 27, 2023, it announced and reminded member countries that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern.

WHO compared 28-days data between Dec 5, 2022 to Jan 1, 2023 and Jan 2 to Jan 29, 2023.

It found that although the number of cases reported decreased by 78%, the number of deaths increased steeply by 65%.

This result is mainly due to the large wave of cases and deaths in the Western Pacific Region, especially in China.

WHO further states that the numbers may be an underestimation due to the reduction in testing and delay in reporting in many countries.

STAY VIGILANT & PROTECT THE VULNERABLE

3 years into the pandemic, Malaysia has reported more than 5 million cases and over 36,000 deaths.

In 2021, it became the main cause of death in Malaysia, overtaking heart disease.

The risk of death is higher among:

  • Those above 60 years
  • Individuals with underlying health conditions
  • Unvaccinated individuals

According to MOH data between Jan 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022, 75% of COVID-19 deaths were among individuals 60 years and above, and 86% of deaths were among those with at least one underlying health condition .

Compared to the first year of pandemic, we are now more prepared to curb COVID-19 due to advancement in preventive measures, rapid diagnoses, and management tools such as vaccination, rapid test kits (RTK) as well as early treatment with antivirals.

These tools are important particularly to prevent severe COVID-19, keeping individuals especially those with risk factors away from hospitalization, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and ultimately death.

Nonetheless, these tools will only be useful if they are being utilized optimally.

While Malaysians were quick on the uptake of primary COVID-19 vaccination doses, the uptake of booster doses are very poor with only 49.7% uptake of the 1st booster and a mere 1.6% of the 2nd booster (as of Feb 7, 2023) .

While no concrete data is available, there are good reasons to believe that due to pandemic fatigue, people are now less likely to test and seek treatment for COVID-19.

It is also important to note that antiviral treatment needs to be taken within the first 5 days of symptom onset. Thus, speed is of the essence.

We cannot risk another surge of COVID-19 globally or locally as it would put a toll on our healthcare system and risk overwhelming it.

In addition to COVID-19, we are also facing the threat of other respiratory illnesses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

As it stands, we are currently experiencing overcrowding in Emergency Departments.

Hence, it is crucial that we answer the calls of WHO and the Ministry of Health Malaysia to continue urging the public especially those who are in the high-risk groups (older persons, individuals with underlying medical conditions) to take precautions against COVID-19.

OUR CAMPAIGN

The Malaysian Society of Infection Control and Infectious Diseases (MyICID) in collaboration with the Family Medicine Association Malaysia (FMSA) and Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) are organising an educational campaign themed COVID-19: QUICKLY TEST & TREAT.

Our objectives

This campaign aims to urge the public especially individuals who are at high-risk as well as their family members to continue protecting themselves and others from severe COVID-19 by:

  • Getting primary and booster doses
  • Testing immediately upon onset of symptoms
  • Seeking early treatment, within the first five days of symptoms

Our campaign’s panel of experts

  • Dr Alif Adlan Mohd Thabit Infectious disease physician
  • Dr Ang Peng Peng Infectious disease physician
  • Dr Suriani Sulaiman Family medicine specialist
  • Dr Balachandran S Krishnan General practitioner

THIS IS A PUBLIC COMMUNITY MESSAGE BROUGHT TO YOU BY

Should We Be Worried About COVID-19 in Our Wastewater?

WORDS DR SAPNA SHRIDHAR PATIL & ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR VENUGOPALAN KULANKARA BALAN

FEATURED EXPERTS
DR SAPNA SHRIDHAR PATIL
School of Medicine
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Taylor’s University
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR VENUGOPALAN KULANKARA BALAN
School of Medicine
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Taylor’s University

Recently, our Ministry of Health detected SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, during wastewater surveillance at airports in the country. It was also reported that China has begun SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance for selected cities after the cessation of the country’s zero COVID policy.

WASTEWATER SURVEILLANCE EXPLAINED

In wastewater surveillance, samples of untreated sewage from selected communities and institutions are routinely collected and sent to laboratories for identification and quantification of virus content and testing for different or new virus variants.

Benefits of wastewater surveillance
  • It provides a rapid real-time ‘snapshot’ of the disease prevalence in the community where the wastewater was sampled from.
  • Wastewater surveillance also addresses challenges of disease under-reporting due to asymptomatic infections, self-home treatment, and delayed or absent notifications from medical practitioners.
  • Information from wastewater surveillance can be used to monitor disease burden patterns, reintroduction or emergence of a new pathogen/variant, and even evaluate the impact of community behavioural campaigns such as masking and physical distancing.

An example of the importance of wastewater surveillance is the detection, in 2022, of wild polio virus in sewage samples during routine testing in London and New York before any clinical cases were reported. This prompted the local health authorities to implement immediate measures to enhance the coverage of primary polio vaccination together with polio boosters in at-risk communities.

Limitations of wastewater surveillance

However, wastewater surveillance cannot replace the existing disease notification system and clinical testing as the wastewater comes from pooled community sewage samples and cannot be used for individual diagnosis.

Apart from this, technical and logistic challenges can also affect the accuracy of the results of wastewater surveillance.

Nonetheless, the information from an effective wastewater surveillance system can greatly complement existing notification system, as it provides an early warning alert for local health authorities to implement prompt targeted interventions in the communities at risk.

WASTEWATER SURVEILLANCE & COVID-19 DETECTION

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there has been ongoing research into the transmission dynamics and ways to curb the disease spread.

It is known that the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads mainly through oral and nasal secretions. However, the virus is also shed in stools for prolonged periods of time. Individuals infected with the virus can shed the virus in their stools, irrespective of whether they have symptoms of COVID-19.

Wastewater surveillance has been implemented in many countries as an environmental monitoring tool to rapidly detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a community and enable local health authorities to be aware of the transmission risk factors, emergence of new variants, and the impact of community preventive measures.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong detected the delta variant in the sewage samples since the end of December 2020 and strengthened public health interventions by informing the public about the common symptoms, and the importance of continuing physical distancing and masking, in addition to hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

United States

In July 2022, California researchers reported that sampling of community wastewater in San Diego detected the presence of the alpha, delta, epsilon, and omicron COVID-19 variants up to 14 days before they started appearing on nasal swabs. This implies that wastewater surveillance applied to transportation-based sanitation systems can serve as an early indicator of possible community transmission.

SO, SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT COVID-19 IN OUR WASTEWATER?

The general public need not be alarmed by the news regarding the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in human waste.

As COVID-19 has now become endemic across most countries around the world, the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in sewage samples is not an unusual finding.

From the Ministry of Health’s initial reports, the variants isolated are already in circulation in Malaysia and the risk posed to human health and the environment is minimal.

However, being aware of such a system enables all of us to be better receptive of updated information shared by the Ministry of Health from time to time.