‘Take extra precautions’

PETALING JAYA: Health experts have urged younger Malaysians to take extra precautions against Covid-19 and reduce their movement as an increasing number of severe cases are being seen in lower age groups.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said from epidemiological data, the distribution of cases is higher among young people but the mortality is proportionately higher among those aged above 50.

However, “in the current situation, information from the field indicates more younger patients are exhibiting more severe manifestations and the number who have died from the infection is relatively higher than before, ” she added.

The Health Ministry recently revealed that more young people are suffering from severe Covid-19 symptoms and showing a higher resistance to treatment.

This is in the wake of the emergence of new coronavirus variants in the country, including the one from South Africa (B.1.351).

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah previously said that so far this year, the highest number of Covid-19 infections involved those aged between 20 and 29, followed by those between 30 and 39 years old.

He also said there were more young people in intensive care units, with higher severity and stronger resistance to treatment.

Universiti Putra Malaysia consultant clinical microbiologist Prof Dr Zamberi Sekawi suggested that young people were developing severe Covid-19 symptoms most likely due to the robust nature of their immune response, which overreacts to the infection.

“The body intends to produce a chemical (cytokines) to counteract the infection but in excessive amounts, it is detrimental to the body, ” he explained.

He said the increase in Covid-19 cases among the younger population is also occurring in other countries.

“In Malaysia, there are simply too many Covid-19 cases in the community, which inevitably are infecting younger people.

“There is also increased social interaction among the young and those who are not complying with the standard operating procedure, ” he said.

Dr Zamberi noted young people were not being prioritised for vaccination, even in other countries.

“Most countries are prioritising those in the high-risk group for vaccination, so the young have a higher risk of getting infected as they are not vaccinated, ” he said.

Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, too, attributed the severe cases among the young to their higher mobility coupled with newer variants present in the community.

He said that this was on top of the Health Ministry’s directive to reduce contact tracing among clusters in January.

“Younger people are more mobile and are, of course, usually employed.

“That means that their contact rate is high so they are more likely to come into contact with other people who may be asymptomatic, ” he said.

Dr Awang Bulgiba said the high number of workplace-related infections and targeted testing of workplaces, where the young dominate, were also possible reasons for the increased number of young people contracting Covid-19.

“It’s also possible that the newer variants in our country may be responsible for the more severe disease among the young, meaning they would be picked up as infections.

“However, this remains to be proved, ” he said.

Dr Awang Bulgiba stressed that compliance to SOP was key to reducing cases involving the younger population.

“Hence, ensuring that they understand and comply with the SOP as a part of their daily routine is essential, ” he said, adding that the habitual compliance to SOP can greatly reduce the risk of infection.

UPM’s Dr Malina said based on observations in the field, a significant proportion of the young was not wearing face masks properly.

“The situation is more obvious among children. More aggressive health awareness programmes should be targeted at this group, ” she suggested.

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