On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Killer on the loose

THE reason for my father’s passing, as detailed in his death certificate, is septicaemia. It means serious blood stream infection caused by bacterial contamination in its host.

My 95-year-old dad passed on July 12 following a brief admission to hospital from July 1, after he developed a high fever.

Just a week earlier, I visited him at our Penang home in Air Itam, and he appeared healthy and normal, although he had been feeble for a while. But he wasn’t bedridden.

Always with a smile, Wong Soon Cheong could still use the spoon to eat by himself, although he seldom spoke since he had dementia.

But within that short period from June 23 to 30, a deterioration began that simply seemed irreversible. Basically, it was his last days on earth.

Considering the many complications of blood infection, the doctor at Adventist Hospital surmised dengue could be a possible reason.

Just before that, my brother who lives next door to my parents, contracted chikungunya, which landed him in hospital on June 16. The viral disease is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes and causes fever and severe joint pains.

He isn’t sure if he was bitten at his workplace on Chulia Street, but my dad was definitely at home.

Last month, the Health Ministry released a warning for the second wave of another deadly virus infection – dengue.

Yes, dengue is a deadly serious problem, even if our attention is on our battle with Covid-19 right now.

It was reported that a fresh wave of dengue cases was expected to hit the nation early June and continue until September, based on the trend of infections in the nation over the last five years.

From January to June 6,2020, 48,584 cases of dengue fever were reported, with a total of 84 deaths in that time.

The report said that while the total figure indicates a 11% drop from last year’s 54,524 cases in the same time frame, the numbers climbed over the last six weeks, with an average of 8% each week.

It said that “the Health Ministry notes that 11% of this year’s dengue fever deaths were due to late treatment.”

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah believes that premises closed during the movement control order (MCO) period had inadvertently become breeding grounds for the virus-carrying Aedes mosquito.

Another report quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying that despite a risk of dengue infection existing in 129 countries, 70% of the threat is in Asia, with Malaysia having some of the most cases.

“Over the last two years, dengue has been on the rise in Malaysia, registering 80,615 cases (147 deaths) in 2018 and 130,101 cases (182 deaths) last year.

“Based on annual data released by the Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), dengue cases usually start increasing from May and spike after the monsoon during July and August.”

Unfortunately for my late father and my brother, their homes are in Air Itam, which has been identified as a hotspot for both dengue and chikungunya.

In the first half of this year, until June 13,212 cases of chikungunya were reported in the state, according to state health committee chairman Dr Norlela Ariffin.

But here’s my complaint. On June 16, my niece made a request for fogging via the Health Ministry’s official website after her father was stricken with chikungunya.

The following day, she received an efficient reply with an acknowledgement from the Penang Health Department.

The North East district health officer texted her on June 22 for the exact location of the house and on June 23, health officers came to check the home and reported that they found no larvae in the drains or surrounding areas.

Its email said fogging would be carried out if cases were reported in the area, but when my niece sent a message of my father’s situation, she received no reply and on July 1, her call to the North East district wasn’t even attended to by the officer in charge.

After all the emails, correspondence and details of the telephone calls were forwarded to Air Itam state assemblyman Joseph Ng Soon Siang, a fogging team suddenly appeared at our doorstep on July 3.

Surely a simple issue like this need not involve the personal attention of a state assemblyman if the state department had taken a more active approach.

The Health Ministry did its part by informing the district level officer, but they either ignored the warning or were too busy tackling the problem in the state. But case MOH 104678 deserves better attention.

Imagine what it’s like for the affected residents, who don’t know how to communicate with the district health office, or even effectively articulate their predicament.

Just like with Covid-19, older people are most susceptible to dengue since they generally have a weaker defence mechanism, and this is where the peril lies.

The situation has become more complicated because local health authorities haven’t been able to conduct fogging during the MCO period.

They’ll have their work cut out as numbers increase in the post monsoon season now.

My father has certainly lived long. He neither smoked nor drank, and his only dietary weakness was overindulging in nasi kandar, perhaps, and like a true blue Kedahan, he insisted on having curry in most of his meals. We even placed a plate of “gulai ikan” for prayer offering on the funeral altar.

He fought hard, even when he was at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, and it broke my heart to see how much he suffered.

So many diseases could take a man that age, but in the end, it was a mosquito which ended his life.

My 89-year-old mother still lives at the Kampung Melayu home and I am obviously worried for her, too.

I have no intention of faulting anyone here, including indifferent health officers. I merely mean to highlight the continuing danger of dengue and remind those with ageing parents living on their own to be more aware of their folks’ surroundings.

Make it a point to keep your homes clean and insist local authorities perform their duties well. Certainly, no one deserves to have their life cut short by a pesky parasite.