GEORGE TOWN: Thirty-three students and teachers who were known to have had contact with Carmen Yee before she died from tuberculosis (TB) are now found to be hosts of the TB bacteria.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said his ministry screened 373 students and teachers of SMJ(K) Heng Ee and discovered that 33 of them are suspected of having latent TB.
He said of the initial 373 screened, 82 were sent for X-rays and of that, 33 are suspected of having latent TB.
“We will do an immunological test and if they are confirmed positive, they will be given latent TB treatment, ” he said.
As for the remaining 340 initially screened, Dr Lee said they will be monitored and will have to be screened again two years from now.
What doctors cannot confirm is if the 33 had contracted their latent TB from Carmen or elsewhere.
“These 33 are not in danger of spreading TB as the bacteria is dormant in them. It can stay dormant for years, decades or may never be activated.
“TB is a prevalent disease in Malaysia, so a lot of us could have been exposed to TB and our bodies might be harbouring the bacteria. It may lie latent until such a time when our immunity drops, ” Dr Lee said.
He said those who know they have latent TB should seek treatment to prevent the disease from manifesting.
“People who are coughing or have a fever for two weeks should go see a doctor.
“If you cough out bloodstained sputum, you should get yourself checked immediately, ” he advised.
Lee was speaking at a press conference on the death of Carmen, a 19-year-old Upper Six student who succumbed to TB. Also present were Penang Hospital director Datuk Dr Norsidah Ismail and Penang Health Department director Dr Asmayani Khalid.
Carmen was admitted to the intensive care unit of Penang Hospital and died on Aug 26.
Nationally, between 25,000 and 26,000 TB cases are recorded annually, with a 6% mortality rate.
A total 24,220 TB cases was recorded in 2015,24,739 TB cases recorded in 2016,26,168 TB cases in 2017 and 25,837 cases in 2018.
“There was a drop in 2018 and out of 25,837 cases, there were 2,184 deaths, which is a 6.6% mortality rate, ” Dr Lee said.
He added that there was a high prevalence of TB in Malaysia after Independence in 1957.
“After 20 to 30 years, we managed to get TB under control. In the 80s and 90s, the prevalence of TB increased due to immigrants.
“After we introduced the Foreign Workers Health Screening Programme, we manage to contain the situation.
“Foreign workers with the slightest abnormality will be rejected and are not given work permits, ” he said.
TB is caused by the pathogenic bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is spread through fluids secreted from the mouth and nose of TB patients when they cough, talk or sneeze. It attacks the lungs.
Patients who have been diagnosed with tuberculosis should seek immediate and complete tuberculosis treatment.