No JE alarm in Sabah, says minister

Sabah minister Stephen Wong says the state health department has been monitoring the JE disease for many years. (Facebook pic)

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah health and people’s well-being ministry has assured that the state is not seriously afflicted by Japanese Encephalitis (JE) after the deadly disease reared its head in neighbouring Sarawak.

Its minister Stephen Wong said there were only two cases in Sabah reported to the authorities this year.

“I would also like to reassure the public in Sabah that there is no cause for alarm on JE in the state.

“I have been reliably informed that the Sabah Health Department has had this disease under surveillance for many years,” he told FMT.

He said there had been between zero and 11 JE cases recorded in the state every year since 2000, adding that these were “sporadic”.

“In 2016, there were a total of 19 cases reported in 11 districts in Sabah, the highest so far. However, only one case was reported last year and so far only two this year,” he added.

Concerns were raised after Sarawak Health Department director Dr Jamilah Hashim confirmed on Wednesday that the disease was endemic in the state.

Sarawak recorded five cases of JE this year and saw as many as 10 cases last year.

Wong said Sarawak was the only state in Malaysia to have a JE vaccination programme for infants, implemented in 2001 following several outbreaks in the state.

“JE is a mosquito-borne disease, spread by the Culex mosquito. There is no human-to-human transmission of JE.

“Therefore, I urge the public to keep the environment free of mosquito breeding sites,” he said.

An infected person develops inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and suffers symptoms like sudden onsets of headache, high fever, neck stiffness, tremors and convulsions and muscle weakness. Some even fall into a coma.

Treatment is only given to relieve the symptoms, supporting the body’s functions as it tries to fight off the infection.

About one in four patients dies from the disease. Those who survive take many months to make a full recovery and up to half of them are left with permanent brain damage.

There is currently no cure for JE, with the JE vaccine deemed to be the best protection against the virus.