LIKE everyone else, a certain reporter was worried about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome when she became unwell.
She had not been to any of the affected countries, but a colleague had recently returned from an assignment in Taiwan and she feared she might have brought the disease back.
One of her listeners to whom she was relating her apprehensions retorted that she might as well lock herself at home but there was still no guarantee that she might not be bitten by an Aedes mosquito and end up having dengue fever instead.
As countries continue to combat the disease, the contagion has again highlighted the importance of a joint responsibility in tackling health issues at all levels of society.
At the individual level, good hygiene and civic consciousness such as helping to keep public areas clean is an important preventive measure against communicable diseases, whether it is dengue or SARS.
However, the level of cleanliness in public areas – drains, public toilets and many eateries – leaves much to be desired. Most Malaysians take cleanliness for granted.
Authorities are at their wit’s ends in educating Malaysians on cleanliness despite spending millions of ringgit on health campaigns.
Perhaps the current alert on communicable diseases is timely to remind the people of their role in keeping their environment clean.
Authorities should also keep Malaysians update on the pattern of disease at home and abroad.
The emergence of new viruses – sadly, more virulent ones through mutation and other ways – appears to be a disturbing trend worldwide in recent years.
Certain viruses which usually only attack animals are also killing humans, and one example is the Nipah virus which attacks both pigs and humans. Over 100 people died in six months in Malaysia.
Other animals are also potential carriers of diseases.
Little do Malaysians realise that they are breeding such carriers through open dumping or stacking rubbish in the open overnight which attract dogs, cats, crows, cockroaches and flies.
Scientists are now studying the link between cockroaches and SARS.
Besides being unsightly and smelly, dirty public toilets are an effective medium for transmission of infectious diseases.
According to the World Toilet Organisation, 40% of the world’s population have never flushed a loo.
Clean public toilets are indeed an increasingly important selling point in tourism in the wake of rising health awareness worldwide.
Suwon, one of the 10 World Cup venues in Korea last year, built almost 40 “world-best beautiful” toilets, besides renovating over 760 in the city.
China, known for its infamous toilets, is also sprucing up the public amenity and so is Thailand.
Singapore also launched a S$4mil (RM8.5mil) drive to spruce up about 800 toilets in coffee shops last year.
Malaysia may have remained largely unaffected by SARS up to now, but Malaysians would do well to be reminded that cleanliness and good hygiene will help determine the health of the people as well as that of the nation's economy..
Ministry of Health SARS siteMinistry has been giving daily updatesAirline suspends Malaysia-HK flightsTaha has angioplastyHostel places at stake as NUS tightens measuresChina bans tours to MalaysiaHospital staff urged to wear safety gearKL and Singapore to work togetherKeep diseases at bay with good hygieneMAS cancels 716 flights from now until June