JOHOR BAHRU: A 25-month old boy died two days ago, believed to have been due to diphtheria infection, said health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
He said the child was never given any immunisation since birth.
He began to develop fever, cough and swollen tonsils on Feb 16.
He said the boy was taken to a hospital emergency unit on Feb 18 in poor condition and was admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit for respiratory assistance and given an antitoxin injection.
“Unfortunately, the child could not be saved and on Feb 21, he succumbed to severe diphtheria with multi-organ failure,” he said in a statement today.
He said a throat swab specimen showed the presence of Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacteria and the health ministry is waiting for laboratory results to determine the presence of diphtheria toxins.
Hisham said diphtheria is caused by a bacterial infection which affects the mucous membranes of the throat, causing the tonsils to swell.
This might further lead to bacteremia complications (blood infections) and endocarditis (heart infection) and organ failure, which in turn could be fatal.
“The ministry has taken steps to curb the spread of the infection (diphtheria), including actively conducting inspections in the residential area where the case was reported, giving immunisation and health education briefings,” he said.
Hisham said since January, there had been only one confirmed case of diphtheria in Malaysia.
He said last year, 18 cases with five deaths, involving children below 10, were reported in the country. In four of the five fatalities, the victims were not given immunisation.
Hisham advised the public to always be aware of infectious diseases such as diphtheria, measles, mumps and pertussis, which could be prevented with immunisation.
“Immunisation is a safe and effective way of protecting children from infection. Failure to provide immunisation will not only expose them to infections but will also be harmful to others,” he said.
He called on parents who have yet to vaccinate their children to come forward and ensure that they were given immunisation according to the schedule set by the health ministry.