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Pertussis Cases In Malaysia Surge Up From 11 Cases in 2021 To 101 Cases In 2022

The numbers continue to rise with 161 cases as of May 31, 2023, out of which 78 per cent are among children under seven.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 – Cases of pertussis in Malaysia shot up considerably in 2022 to 101 cases from 11 cases in 2021, following the opening of all sectors after the movement control order (MCO) was relaxed. 

That number has also risen as of May 31, 2023 to 161 cases. Out of the 161 cases, 126 cases (78 per cent) are among children below seven-years-old.

Fifty-five cases (44 per cent) out of the 126 cases are from non-citizen children, said Health Minister Dr Zalifa Mustafa in her written parliamentary reply last June 19 to Senator Kesavadas A. Achyuthan Nair.

Kesavadas wanted to know what measures the Ministry of Health (MOH) has in place to prevent the spread of pertussis throughout the country.

 “The pertussis vaccine, which is given in six consecutive combinations (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis-polio-Hepatitis B-Haemophilus influenzae type b) under the National Immunisation Programme (NIP) is also provided for free to non-citizenship children at all MOH primary health care facilities since January 6, 2022,” Dr Zaliha said.

“This initiative was implemented to ensure non-citizenship children are also protected from the risk of pertussis. The vaccine is given in four doses including three primary doses at two, three and five months old, as well as a booster dose at 18 months.”

Additionally, contact tracing activities are conducted among close contacts and neighbouring communities when pertussis cases are discovered in a particular area, said the minister. 

“Diagnostic pertussis examinations will be performed on close contacts and nearby communities that are symptomatic, and antibiotics will be provided. Non-symptomatic close contacts will be given antibiotics as a prophylactic.”

MOH also conducts detection activities to identify children who have not completed their immunisation schedule as part of its control measures when cases of pertussis are discovered in a particular area.

Furthermore, immunisation through outreach activities is conducted in the area to improve the immunity of the area’s population, Dr Zalifa said.

“Pertussis epidemics in a community can be prevented by ensuring pertussis immunisation coverage is always above 95 per cent.”

Many of the pertussis cases in Malaysia currently are among babies below five-months-old who have not achieved optimum immunity because they have not completed three doses of the primary pertussis vaccine, according to the Health Minister.

As of May 31, 2023, 78 (48 per cent) of the 161 cases are among babies under five months. “Therefore, MOH plans to provide the Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis (Tdap) combination vaccinations to pregnant mothers.”

Dr Zaliha said that pregnant women who are given the pertussis vaccine can protect their babies from the time when they are still in the womb until their babies can complete the six consecutive combination vaccinations as outlined in the NIP.

“Provision of Tdap vaccines for pregnant women will be implemented once the allocation has been approved. In the meantime, pregnant women can get vaccinations from private facilities that provide it for a fee.”

Surveillance data on pertussis, also known as whooping cough, as of May 23, 2023 show that out of 161 cases, 13 per cent (21 cases) are among the seven to 17 year-old age group (school age group), while 9 per cent (14 cases) are among adults, who are categorised as 18-years-old and above.

“Given that the risk of pertussis among the school age group and adults are minimal compared to children under seven, at the moment, MOH has no plans to expand the provision of pertussis vaccination to those aged seven and above under the NIP,” said Dr Zalifa.

“However, the pertussis vaccine for those who are seven-years-old and above can be obtained at private health care facilities to increase an individual’s immunity against pertussis.”

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