I REFER to the report “Mystery solved: It is measles” (The Star, June 18). The Health Ministry’s revelation that the recent deaths of the Bateq Orang Asli in Kuala Koh, Kelantan are due to measles should alert all Malaysians to the potentially deadly nature of this viral infection primarily due to respiratory complications.
In my experience as a medical officer in a rural area on the east coast of Sabah, serving mainly Bajau people and Suluk refugees in the mid-1980s, measles was common among children and many were admitted to my district hospital with bronchopneumonia (the most common type of pneumonia, and leading cause of death from infection, in children aged under five years), secondary to the measles infection with skin rash.
It was always a crisis situation with babies and children having high fever and difficulty breathing with tachypnea (fast respiration rate).
The inpatients needed hydration and some intranasal oxygen; measures to bring down the body temperature fast to prevent febrile fits; and intravenous antibiotics to combat the bacterial super-added infection.
In those days, there were no paediatricians even in general hospitals in Sabah, except maybe one physician with special interest in paediatric management at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu.
The rural people in the east coast of Sabah, whom I served for three years over 35 years ago, and the Bateq tribe in the deep interior of Peninsular Malaysia may have many similarities in demography and lack of immunity to measles because of low level of access by health teams, their nomadic lifestyles and/or lack of understanding on the need for vaccination against measles and other preventable diseases.
This may have been complicated by their traditional beliefs and concepts of illnesses as well.
DR SARFRAZ M. HUSSAIN