PETALING JAYA: A two-year-old child from Johor Baru who was not immunised is suspected to have died from severe diphtheria, says Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
"A death occurred in the Johor Baru district on Feb 21 of suspected diphtheria infection.
"The case involved a child, aged two years and one month," he said in media statement issued on Saturday (Feb 23).
Dr Noor said the child, who had not been immunised since birth, initially developed a fever and had cough and swollen tonsils on Feb 16 before being rushed to the hospital's emergency unit two days later.
"The child was weak and was admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit and given assisted breathing and antitoxin diphtheria treatment.
"Unfortunately, the child could not be saved and passed away on Feb 21 owing to severe diphtheria with multi-organ failure," he added.
He said further tests were being done to confirm if the child had indeed succumbed to the disease.
Dr Noor said the ministry was taking steps to prevent the spread of infection by tracing active cases, including providing immunisation and health education awareness.
He said it was crucial for parents to immunise their children as a failure to do so put not only their children at risk, but also other children.
"The ministry advises members of the public, especially parents, to always be alert with regard to infectious diseases which are preventable through immunisation such as diphtheria, measles, whooping cough and others," he added.
He urged parents who had yet to immunise their children to do so at the nearest health facility.
Dr Noor said so far, only one confirmed diphtheria case was recorded this year compared to 18 last year.
Of the 18 cases last year, he said five resulted in death, with four of the victims not having received immunisation.
He noted that the five fatal diphtheria cases last year involved children below 10.
Diphtheria is caused by the infection of the Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria, and symptoms range from fever with sore throat, thick covering in the back of the throat and swollen tonsils.
The disease can lead to organ failure and blood and heart infections resulting in death.