By Nurul Halawati Azhari
KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 (Bernama) -- Three-year-old Iman Naufal was a very intelligent, active and lively child and delighted his family with his cheeriness and cute antics.
But their happiness was short-lived. Iman Naufal suffered a sudden high fever, leaving his body weak and almost lifeless. What was more sad, was that he suffered brain damage from the fever, leaving his small body paralysed.
The permanent disability suffered by Iman Naufal is one that those under five years old can potentially suffer after contracting a high fever.
In past days, people used to say that high fevers or seizures were the cause of permanent disabilities or deaths in children.
Little did they know that the high fever is caused by several bacterial strains that lead to infections to the protective membranes covering the lungs and the brain, among others.
The pneumococcal disease is a group of diseases caused by the streptococcus pneumonia bacteria, or pneumococcus. If the infection occurs in the upper respiratory tract, it can lead to bacteremia (infection in the blood), sepsis (blood poisoning), meningitis (infection of the protective membranes covering the brain and the spinal cord), pneumonia (lung infection), otitis media (middle ear infection) and sinusitis (sinus infection).
Failure to receive treatment or a failed treatment may lead to hearing loss, learning difficulties, delayed speech development, paralysis and sometimes death.
According to Dr Low Kok Thye from Klinik Medijaya, Kepong, it is quite difficult to identify a pneumococcal infection since symptoms such as fever, chills and cough can be confused with other diseases.
In fact, it requires a thorough medical checkup or laboratory tests to confirm the infection.
"The best way to protect oneself from the infection is through vaccination. Today there are two types of pneumococcal vaccines for children, which are conjugate vaccines that come as 10 valent (PCV10) or 13 valent (PCV13).
"PCV10 protects children from 10 strains of pneumococcal bacteria. PCV13 protects them from 13 strains, including the serotype 19A," he said.
Dr Low added that the pneumococcal vaccinations are suggested for children ages two months to five years.
Awareness campaigns in Malaysia on pneumococcal diseases have been held since the year 2000. Its main aim is to bring knowledge to parents about the disease, which has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the number one cause of death worldwide for children under five.
The campaign also stresses that the disease is preventable via vaccination.
One of the campaigns, called Aim For Broader Coverage (ABC), took place at the Ti-Ratana Charity Home in Desa Petaling recently.
It calls on Malaysians to support the inclusion of PCV into the National Immunisation Plan (NIP). During the programme, 47 children residing at the Ti-Ratana home were given free vaccinations.
The ABC campaign is in collaboration with the Asian Strategic Alliance for Pneumococcal Disease Prevention and Pfizer Malaysia, along with parenting websites such as Parenting2u, Pitter Patter and SJ Echo.
Dr Low, who is also the affiliate member of the ABC Parent Associate, said the ABC campaign was launched in June 2011.
It is a campaign to raise public support and calls on Malaysians to support the inclusion of PCV into the NIP by signing their pledges at the website www.abc4pneumococcal.com.
"Vaccinations can help prevent pneumococcal disease, and its inclusion into the NIP will help parents, because not everyone can afford the vaccinations for their children."
The ABC campaign also received endorsements from local celebrities, who are themselves mothers, such as Aishah Sinclair, Sazzy Falak and Daphne Iking.
Daphne, who learned about the disease following her first pregnancy, said:
"After several years had gone by and I had my second child, the facts remained the same. The vaccine is still relevant and needed by children, but not all parents can afford it, especially if they have many children."
Besides children, senior citizens are also susceptible to the infection, which easily spreads via coughing and sneezing. Another group vulnerable to the infection are HIV carriers, whose antibodies are already low.