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

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

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]

GETTING REAL ABOUT RABIES

GETTING REAL ABOUT RABIES

October 22, 2020   Return

WORDS LIM TECK CHOO

Facts about Rabies

  • It can come from a bite. The rabies virus is spread through infected saliva. When an infected creature bites through your skin, the virus can enter the body through infected saliva.
  • It’s bad for the brain—really bad. Once it enters the body, the rabies virus can quickly move via the bloodstream to the brain, where it can cause swelling and inflammation. If left untreated, this can be fatal. Most deaths from rabies occur among children.


Does Your Dog Have Rabies?
In popular media, a dog with rabies is often portrayed as foaming excessively around the mouth, but things are a little more complicated in real life. It may not be easy to tell from a glance whether a dog has rabies. There is a window of time after infection when an infected creature will not show any symptoms of illness, but could still infect other mammals in the meantime.

We can get a clue that something is wrong with our canine pet, though, if it begins to behave in a strange manner. For example, they may become more timid and move more slowly. In fact, it is more common for dogs with rabies to behave this way, compared to the stereotypical aggressive, barking behaviour shown in popular media!

The rule of thumb here is to bring our pet to a veterinary physician for a check-up if we suspect that it may be infected by rabies.

Alternatively, vaccinate our pet every year with the rabies

vaccine, and we’ll have nothing to worry about!

If we spot any stray dogs behaving strangely, especially during a rabies outbreak, we should report them to the city council. In our report, we should include description (colour, species, etc) as well as location of the stray.

 

How to Protect Your Dog from Rabies during an Outbreak

  • Vaccinate your dog.
  • Keep your dog isolated in your house compound (no going out!), so that it will not come into contact with potentially infected dogs. Isolation is necessary even after receiving a vaccination, as a dog still needs some time after a jab to build up the necessary immunity against rabies.

What If Your Dog Has Rabies?
Unfortunately, at this time there is no effective cure or treatment for rabies. Rabies is almost always fatal; infected dogs will succumb to the disease less than a week after showing signs of infection.

Prevention is the only way to protect our dogs. The vaccine offers protection for about a year, so the rabies vaccine should be given to our dogs once every year.

 

What to Do If You Had Been Bitten by a Rabies-Infected Dog
Don’t panic. Health experts say that the most important

thing to do is to clean the wound with soap and running water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Then, visit the hospital right away, and inform the doctor that you have been bitten by a dog.

Children may not voluntarily inform adults that they have been bitten by a dog, so if you suspect that their injury is a dog bite, ask them for confirmation first. Wash the wound as described above and send them to the hospital immediately after.