Carrying an infectious disease without knowing – a hidden danger


  • Children
  • Friday, 16 Oct 2020

If you are an asymptomatic carrier of an infectious virus, bacteria or parasite, you might infect others unknowingly. — Positive Parenting

Compared with children, adults have a stronger immune system.

However, do you know that adults may carry viruses, bacteria and parasites without being aware of it?

You look healthy and well on the outside, but you might be bringing home dangerous microorganisms and putting your family at risk.

Such a person is known as a carrier, i.e. someone whose body houses disease-causing microorganisms and is able to transmit them to others.

The method of transmission is dependent on the type of disease, whether it is airborne, or spreads through water, food or direct contact.

Are carriers at risk of the disease?

The answer is almost always yes.

It’s usually just a matter of time before their immunity is overwhelmed, especially if it dips for any reason, e.g. due to stress or lack of sleep.

An asymptomatic carrier is a person who has the infection, but does not show any symptoms.

This normally means that the person may unknowingly spread the disease while remaining undetected.

As expected, this can have severe repercussions, especially as it is unlikely that the carrier will exercise any special restraint to prevent the transmission of the disease as they are unaware they have it.

This is what we went through with Covid-19, and why the government imposed a movement control order (MCO) in a bid to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from spreading quickly.

Other than Covid-19, there are other infections that can be carried and spread unknowingly, especially those that are airborne or spread through water droplets.

These include influenza viruses and pneumococcal bacteria, which we can actually prevent from spreading.

Disease-causing microorganisms can lurk in the throats of carriers and spread with every breath, exhalation, cough/sneeze, or even while talking with others.

Prevention, the best cure

Vaccines for active influenza strains are available on an annual basis.

The pneumococcal vaccine is included in the National Immunisation Programme (NIP) this year (2020), as this disease has a high death rate and can cause numerous complications.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae.

The hidden danger of this disease lurks not only in the complications that it can cause, but also in how one can easily be an asymptomatic carrier and unwittingly infect loved ones.

The bacteria is transmitted via little droplets from the nose or mouth.

However, lab tests suggest that the bacteria can survive for long periods of time on surfaces.

This means that other than droplet transmission, there is also the possibility of infection from contaminated surfaces.

What makes pneumococcus something to be taken seriously?

Aside from being easily transmitted from person to person, it can cause many life-threatening complications, e.g. pneumonia, blood poisoning, meningitis, middle ear infection, sinusitis and bronchitis.

While it’s important to vaccinate the ones most at risk, i.e. infants and young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, other members of the family should also consider getting vaccinated.

You never know if you will come into contact with someone who is a carrier, so it only makes sense for you to take the necessary steps to prevent this.

To achieve this, the best option available is still vaccination, as this will help build your body’s immunity to the disease, even if you have had it in the past.

Prevention is the best cure; check with your child’s paediatrician on what vaccination options are available.

Vaccinating your child can prevent the disease, but at the same time, vaccination does not guarantee perfect protection.

There is a small possibility of still getting pneumococcal disease, however, the symptoms would be much less severe than for someone who has not been vaccinated.

Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail is a consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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