TB kills up to 2,000 annually

KUALA LUMPUR: Tuberculosis (TB) claims about 1,500 to 2,000 lives annually in Malaysia, with an average of six deaths occurring every day, says the Health Ministry disease control division’s Dr Mohamed Naim Abdul Kadir.

“Between 20,000 and 25,000 new TB cases are recorded in Malaysia each year, ” said the head of the ministry’s TB/leprosy sector.

Describing the number of fatalities as high, he said the deaths were mainly due to the delay in seeking medical treatment.

“The situation is worrying as public awareness of TB and mycobacterium tuberculosis – the bacteria that causes the highly infectious disease – is still low, ” he said.

Currently, the transmission of TB is still active in Malaysia although various treatment regimes have been introduced and case detection has improved.

In 2018, new TB cases were recorded in Selangor (5,071 cases), Sabah (5,008), Sarawak (3,122), Johor (2,150) and Kuala Lumpur/Putrajaya (2,017).

Dr Mohamed Naim said the high incidence of TB in Selangor was due to high population density, especially in urban areas with people in the lower socioeconomic rungs.

The prevalence of the disease in Sabah is due to the presence of illegal immigrants who do not seek treatment for fear that they may be apprehended by the authorities.

The number of new TB cases nationwide declined to 25,837 in 2018 from 26,168 cases the previous year.

“We noticed an upward trend this year, ” said Dr Mohamed Naim, who expected a 5% rise in new cases this year.

He also expected an increase in the death rate among TB patients this year.

Stressing that early detection was crucial in preventing death, he said TB patients could recover by adhering to the prescribed treatment schedule.

TB and dengue are the two most contagious diseases found in Malaysia but in the case of dengue, only about 100 deaths are recorded out of 50,000 to 100,000 cases a year.

“Where TB is concerned, we have about 20,000 to 25,000 new cases a year, but the death rate is higher at 1,500 to 2,000, ” he told Bernama recently.

Dr Mohamed Naim also said the detection of new TB cases in Malaysia fell short of the number estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Currently, around 25,000 new cases are detected every year but according to WHO’s estimate, there should be about 33,000 new cases.

“Our focus now is to carry out health screenings on high-risk groups so that we can unravel undetected cases, ” he added.People at the highest risk of developing TB are those with a weak immune system such as HIV patients, kidney patients, diabetics, senior citizens residing in institutions, smokers and health workers.

Although Malaysia is not in WHO’s list of 30 high TB burden countries, its migrant workforce includes individuals who hail from some of the nations mentioned in the list.

According to WHO statistics, the TB prevalence rate in Malaysia now stands at 92 per 100,000 population.

Among the countries with the highest TB prevalence rates are Indonesia (395/100,000), Cambodia (380/100,000), Myanmar (365/

100,000), Nigeria (322/100,000), the Philippines (322/100,000), Bangladesh (255/100,000), Pakistan (270/

100,000) and India (217/100,000).However, as pointed out by Dr Mohamed Naim, it is quite difficult to blame migrant workers for the rise in TB cases in Malaysia as they only comprise 13% of the cases reported to the authorities, with the rest being Malaysians.

Nevertheless, the influx of illegal immigrants who do not undergo TB health screening as required by the government is a cause for concern.

“We are not sure how many among them have TB, ” he said.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is spread via airborne particles when a person with TB coughs, sneezes, talks or sings.

When a person breathes in the bacteria, it can settle in the lungs and move through the bloodstream to other parts of the body such as the glands, intestines and bones.

The incubation period for TB – the period between exposure to an infection and the appearance of the first few symptoms – is between six and eight weeks.

Dr Mohamed Naim advised patients to seek medical treatment immediately if they have fever

and sweat at night, and cough up phlegm or blood and have no appetite.

He reiterated the government’s National Strategic Plan for TB Control’s goal of making Malaysia TB-free by 2035, saying that the Health Ministry would continue to step up efforts to improve the surveillance, screening, diagnosis and treatment aspects of the contagious disease.

“We expect new (diagnostic) tests and TB vaccine for adults to emerge within five years, ” he added.

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