PETALING JAYA, April 21 — Students at Maktab Rendah Science Mara in Taiping were exposed to a student who had tuberculosis for two months before the disease was diagnosed.
A source from the Health Ministry told Malay Mail the first student diagnosed with tuberculosis at the hostel had developed a cough and received treatment for it in June and was only diagnosed in August last year.
“The initial patient had displayed flu-like symptoms such as coughing and a fever. He was taken to a clinic and was treated for symptoms after which he was sent back to the hostel,” he said.
“During the next two months he spread the disease to other students as they lived in a confined space and ate, studied and slept together.”
The student was only removed from the hostel after he had been diagnosed via sputum culture and chest X-ray, but by November and December other students had started displaying symptoms.
“Typically a persistent cough which lasts for more than two weeks is a red flag. Typically a sputum test combined with a chest X-ray will be sufficient to detect presence of the disease,” the source said.
“There is a blood test available but it is very costly and is only available at certain medical centres.”
It was reported yesterday 11 students at the hostel had been diagnosed since last year with one having been fully cured and ten currently receiving treatment.
In an email response, the Health Ministry's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said the only current protection against the disease was through the Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG) vaccine.
“All reported cases in Taiping had received the vaccine. It protects against the most severe forms of TB such as TB Meningitis and TB Miliary but not against pulmonary TB,” it said.
“Individuals staying for a length of time with an infected person are at risk of contracting TB as are those with a weakened immune system such as diabetics and the elderly.
The CDC also noted TB was not a “disease of the past” and was in fact constantly present in the population, an endemic disease which had a long incubation period.
“The disease is in the population and there were 25,739 registered cases nationwide in 2016, up from the 24,220 cases recorded in 2015,” it said
Additionally, the CDC said the ministry had developed several specific guidelines for management of the disease in the country.
The guidelines consist of screening, diagnosis, investigation, treatment, follow-up, prevention and referral for TB cases including measures against drug resistant strains of the disease.
“TB is an infectious communicable disease and every possible measure to mitigate its impact on the public’s health will be taken to guard against it,” it said.
Parents of students at the boarding school were urged by Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) deputy director (Education) Abdul Halim Abas not to “panic”.
In a statement, Abdul Halim sought to allay fears of a wider outbreak at the hostel which houses 784 students.
“Mara has taken all necessary steps to ensure the spread of the disease is under control as advised by the Perak Health Department,” he said.
“All students and teachers at the facility have been subject to a health screening to ensure no one else had been infected.
“We urge the public especially parents at the MRSM to not panic over reports.”
On Wednesday, Perak health committee chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon said from 11 students who were infected, 10 had been receiving treatment at private medical institutes, the Taiping Health Clinic and the Taiping Hospital for the past six months.
Dr Mah had said the Health Department was investigating the source of the contagious disease.
In Ipoh, Perak, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon said once an infectious disease was reported in a school, school administrators need to follow a standard operating procedure on who to report to and the type of action to be taken.
“There is a step-by-step measure to be taken. On the first day report to the district education department, third day submit a report to the department, and by the week’s end, a full report must be submitted to the ministry for further action,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after opening National Type Secondary School Principal Council annual general meeting here yesterday, Chong said the same SOP applied to emergencies.
He said he did not have the statistics on the number of students infected by infectious disease.