Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa urged the Malaysian public not to panic after rumours of a tuberculosis (TB) outbreak became viral on social media.
Dr Zaliha mentioned that several tuberculosis cases were detected in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, but emphasised that they were under control. She also said that TB is always around the corner, and there is no cause for concern regarding the newly detected cases in Cheras. She also said that the Public Health Department is investigating the issue and will release an official statement soon.
Tuberculosis gone Viral?
Photographs of a notice allegedly issued by the management office of a Klang Valley apartment complex claimed that there were a total of 118 TB-positive cases in the vicinity of Cheras.
Residents were urged to mask up before entering the apartment area. The photographs spread like wildfire on social media and have led to the Health Ministry issuing a statement to avoid panic among the public. The MySejahtera tracker on infectious disease shows 11 TB cases reported in Cheras for the past three months.
Why Should We Be Aware Of TB?
We’ve all heard the word TB growing up. In fact, most Malaysians remember getting their TB vaccination at school when they were 12 years old. TB refers to infections caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma Tuberculosis and usually affects the lungs (pulmonary TB). It can also spread to other organs such as the brain and spine (extrapulmonary TB).
It is the number one killer from a single infectious agent globally. TB takes the lives of 1.5 million people annually. It is also the leading cause of death among patients with HIV and a major cause of antimicrobial resistance. In 2022, 25,931 TB cases were reported in Malaysia, an increase of 3664 cases(17%) with 2,572 deaths (a 12% increase) compared to 2021.
Better Safe Than Sorry
TB can spread through air droplets in the air when an infected person coughs/ sneezes/ spits. Unlike COVID-19, which spreads quickly with just a few air droplets, TB usually occurs after close contact and prolonged exposure to infected individuals. Exposure to TB may lead to infection, but it does not always cause disease. While TB is preventable and curable, it does not hurt to be on the safe side. Healthy adults may be able to recover well but might spread the infection to family members with weaker immune systems, leading to unfortunate fatalities.
Here are some symptoms of TB to be on the lookout for:
- A cough that lasts for more than two weeks
- Cough with mucus, which is occasionally bloodstained
- Loss of appetite and/ or weight
- Fever with chills
- Night sweats
Babies on the other hand, may present with symptoms such as:
- Reduced activity
- Feeding issues
- A bulge from the soft spot on their forehead.
Professor Dr. James Koh, the head of Division of Medicine in the International Medical University (IMU), mentioned that treating TB is done with a combination of 4 different antibiotics for a period of 6 to 12 months, depending on which body part is affected. `He also states that newer generation medications can potentially treat Tb within three months but are unavailable in Malaysia. It is important to note that TB treatment can cause side effects, especially due to their strength and the prolonged course of treatment.
He also emphasised that missing doses and not completing the course of prescribed antibiotics can lead to the bacteria becoming resistant to the medications. “Patients with antibiotic-resistant TB are very hard to treat. These cases will need a lot of alternative medications involving injections, and therapy can go up to 2 years. It gets very, very complicated,” said Dr. James.
Call for Action
It is important to remember that there are no TB ‘booster’ vaccinations. A healthy lifestyle and a strong immune system is the main way to fight off TB. However, the public should be aware that not all individuals are equipped with good immunity, especially children and the elderly. Practising good hygiene and masking up as needed can help reduce the risk of getting infected. In a nutshell, stay safe and seek treatment if necessary to safeguard not only yourself but your loved ones as well.