TB cases a worrying health concern

Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon. -filepic

PETALING JAYA: She appeared lethargic, feverish and wore a sweater all day long despite the hot and humid weather.

But it was her incessant cough since her first day at work as a maid that worried her employer, who took her to see a doctor.

She was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).

The employer was relieved that the maid who was with them for two weeks did not infect her family, including her three teenage children.

While employers may question the health screening of foreign workers, doctors also advised employers to be vigilant with the increasing prevalence of TB, a highly contagious airborne disease.

“It can be hard to ascertain when and how a person got the disease.

“We must always be on the look out for warning signs like a cough that lasts more than a week, lethargy and fever.

Dr Milton LumDr Milton Lum

“Go and see a doctor and let the doctor know the symptoms and the duration, “ said senior medical practitioner Dr Milton Lum.

He also said that the medical fraternity should be on the “high index of suspicion” on TB, meaning always consciously on the look out for the disease.

TB had overtaken dengue as a killer in Selangor, with 367 deaths (out of 5,071 patients) against 41 dengue fatalities in the state last year, reported StarMetro recently.

There were 152 TB deaths (out of 1,929 patients) in Selangor for the first half of this year.

According to Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye, there were 25,837 cases of TB in the country, with 2,184 deaths, last year.

While there were TB high-risk groups – from foreign workers, prisoners, HIV carriers to the lower social economic group with ill health – Dr Lum pointed out that TB could strike anyone, and there is absolutely no room for complacency.

“TB mostly attacks the lungs of patients but it can also attack the joints, bones and many other parts of the body,” Dr Lum added.

The death of 19-year-old student Carmen Yee from TB last month has raised more questions on the disease pattern in the country.

Carmen’s 47-year-old mother Vivian Teoh recalled her daughter’s final days to Dr Lee who met the family in Penang Hospital last week.

Teoh berated the ministry and hospital, claiming her daughter who died on Aug 26 was not treated on time.

She said the hospital had confirmed on Aug 23 that Carmen had TB.

“They gave my daughter medicine and asked us to take her home and come back after two weeks,” she said.

Teoh said Carmen vomited “a lot of blood” that night and they brought her back to the emergency ward, and the hospital asked them to take her home after giving her more medication.

“The next day, my daughter vomited blood non-stop after dinner,” she said, and the family drove an unconscious Carmen to the hospital where she died in the intensive care unit without regaining consciousness.

Dr Lee said the ministry would conduct an independent investigation into the case and expected to complete it in a month or two.

Expressing frustration on the ministry’s handling of the infectious disease, Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon has called for transparency and a more professional approach in combating TB.

“How much longer does the Health Ministry need before alerting the people on the danger of TB in the country and how to cope with it?” asked the MCA deputy president who is also a cardiologist.

He urged the ministry to reveal the pattern of the disease in the country, or the absence of the picture on the ground could lead to a sense of complacency among the public and healthcare personnel.

Dr Mah said all government hospitals and clinics should be on the highest alert and take all precautionary steps in handling TB.
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