PETALING JAYA, 5 May 2009: Dengue is a more pressing threat in Malaysia right now than the influenza A (H1N1), said prominent virologist Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit.
“Though the influenza has a potential of spreading far and wide because of its pandemic nature, it hasn’t entered the country yet. The dengue threat has been going on for ages and is far more significant,” Lam told The Nut Graph in a phone interview.
The former director of the World Health Organisation’s National Influenza Centre also said that antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Raflenza could cure at least 90% of the influenza A (H1N1) patients.
(Pic by enimal / sxc.hu)However, he noted the situation vis-à-vis dengue could change quickly should the influenza A (H1N1) hit Malaysian shores.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai has also been quoted as saying that the dengue situation was worse than swine flu.
Earlier this year, Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican had warned that Malaysia was facing its worst dengue outbreak ever. As of 25 April, there have already been 41 deaths from dengue, compared with 29 during the same period last year.
“The public doesn’t need to be too alarmed [about the influenza A (H1N1)], but they should remain vigilant and visit a clinic and report to the ministry if they develop flu-like symptoms,” Lam said.
The virologist from Universiti Malaya’s Institute of Research Management and Monitoring said infected individuals who wear masks will be able to prevent the spread of the virus through droplets.
Wearing a mask is also a good way to protect oneself, he added.
Yesterday, Veterinary Services Department director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Jamaluddin said the department would vaccinate some 1.7 million pigs in the country to protect the animals from normal swine flu virus, and to reduce the risk of the virus mutating.
Lam, however, questioned the decision, asking, “Why do they want to spend RM8 to RM10 million when the vaccines would not protect the pigs from the influenza A (H1N1) strain?”
Regardless, he commended the Health Ministry for its overall efforts in handling the situation.
“I think the ministry is doing very well. They’ve been monitoring the situation closely and obviously they’ve benefited from the experience of previous outbreaks such as SARS, the Nipah virus, and the Avian Flu. They also have a contingent plan in case a pandemic breaks out.”
(Pic by Michal Zacharzewski / sxc.hu)Lam said all countries should have “a plan of preparedness” to address any pandemics. The government has implemented preventive measures against an influenza A (H1N1) outbreak, including screening passengers at all entry points and updating the media on the latest situation in Malaysia.
“Of course, it’s impossible to scrutinise every single person coming in by air, road, or sea. There is no symptom when the virus is incubating in the infected person’s body, not even fever, so they would still be able to come into the country,” said Lam.
“There are lots of illegal entries which we can’t do anything about. We can only do as much as we can, but the current situation doesn’t warrant us to be too panicky,” he added.