The mysterious illness that caused 15 deaths in a Malaysian tribe has been linked to a measles outbreak

Dr Dzulkefly attributed the outbreak to the low immunisation coverage of Orang Asli in Kuala Koh.
YouTube / Bernama WebTV

A mysterious disease that has plagued the Kuala Koh village has been identified by the Health Ministry as a measles outbreak, New Straits Times (NST) reported.

According to NST, health minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad told reporters on Monday (June 17) that as of June 15, 37 Orang Asli from the Bateq tribe have tested positive for measles.

Measles is a highly contagious infection that affects the respiratory system, Health Hub Singapore said. The virus is spread through direct contact with the saliva or mucus of an infected child or adult, or through contact with contaminated surfaces.

According to The Star, Dr Dzulkefly said that between June 3 to June 15, 112 related cases were recorded.

He added that out of 14 reported fatalities, only the two latest cases were taken to the hospital for post-mortem. According to The Star, the most recent case involved a three-year-old who died on Sunday.

Dr Dzulkefly attributed the outbreak to the low immunisation coverage of Orang Asli in Kuala Koh, adding that only 61.5 per of the Bateq tribe received their first dosage of Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccination, and only 30 per cent received their second dosage.

“We face difficulty in providing healthcare services to the Bateq tribe because of their nomadic lifestyle. Malnutrition is another reason that leads to risks of infection and complications,” he was quoted by NST as saying.

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He added that the usual fatality rate of measles would be less than one per cent, but could rise to between three and six per cent if the patient was malnourished, NST reported.

Meanwhile, lab tests for other diseases such as tuberculosis, melioidosis, leptospirosis and coronavirus have proven negative, NST quoted the minister as saying.

Preventing further outbreak

According to Malay Mail, Dr Dzulkefly said that the Health Ministry would be conducting a search of related cases in Kuala Koh and surrounding villages to control the measles outbreak.

Additionally, all affected children will be provided with vitamin A to enhance their immunity system. He added that immunisation activities will also be carried out with all Orang Asli villagers in the affected location, Malay Mail reported.

Apart from providing the Orang Asli with counselling sessions, infection prevention control at health facilities will also be enhanced, Malay Mail quoted Dr Dzulkefly as saying.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has ordered other states to increase surveillance of measles infection and heighten immunisation coverage within their respective Orang Asli communities, Dr Dzulkefly said.

Citing Dr Dzulkefly, Malay Mail reported that the police will also monitor and control entry into the Kuala Koh village area to prevent the measles virus from spreading.

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