JOHOR BAHRU: A two-year-old boy who died this week in Johor Bahru is believed to have had diphtheria, said Malaysia's health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah on Saturday (Feb 23).
The toddler had never been immunised since birth, he added.
The child developed fever, cough and swollen tonsils on Feb 16, and was taken to a hospital's emergency unit two days later.
“Unfortunately, the child could not be saved and on Feb 21, he succumbed to severe diphtheria with multi-organ failure,” Dr Noor Hisham said in a statement.
Authorities are awaiting further test results to confirm the presence of the diphtheria toxin.
READ: FAQ - what is diphtheria and how dangerous is it?
Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that’s transmitted from one person to another through close physical contact, usually through respiratory droplets like from coughing or sneezing.
In severe cases, pseudo-membranes form in the throat, which may extend to the airways, leading to breathing difficulties.
"MOH (Ministry of Health) 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 briefing," Dr Noor Hisham said.
There has only been one confirmed case of diphtheria in Malaysia so far this year, he added.
In 2018, there were 18 reported cases involving children below the age of 10. Out of the five who died, four were not immunised.
Dr Noor Hisham urged parents who have not vaccinated their children to come forward to do so.
"Immunisation is a safe and effective way of protecting your children from infection and failure to provide immunisation will not only expose them to infections but will also be harmful to others," he said.