(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng yesterday confirmed that the killer viral outbreak in Sarawak which had claimed 21 victims as a result of viral myocarditis since April 14 is caused by a virulent strain of the Coxsackie virus B.
What is inexplicable is the Health Ministerís insistence that the public should not be unduly alarmed "as actually very few die of viral myocarditis".
In his press conference yesterday, Chua Jui Meng tried to explain that the virus is endemic in the country and is present worldwide, and that it normally produced a very mild disease in the majority of the people infected.
He even used the pyramid representation to explain that only a very small percentage will come down with more severe clinical signs, likening it to the pyramid structure where at the base a large number of people have the virus but only a few at the apex were badly affected. He said this was borne out by the fact that of the thousands who have had Coxsackievirus infection in Sibu and Sarawak over the last few months, there were only 21 deaths and 146 admissions to hospitals.
What the Health Minister fails to understand is that in modern-day Malaysia, which is on the threshold of a developed nation, one death is one too many - let alone 21 deaths.
Even the American medical epidemiologist, Dr. Jim Alexander from the Atlanta-based Centre of Diseases Control, had described the Coxsackie virus B infection in Sarawak as rather unusual in the number of lives it had claimed since the first death was reported on April 14.
What is disturbing is that there is no cure for the virus infection, and the report that two children who had symptoms of viral fever have been warded at the Ipoh General Hospital.
If this is confirmed, then the fear of parents in Peninsular Malaysia that the Coxsackie virus B infection could cross over from the South China Sea would have been proved well-founded.
The Health Ministry has given all Malaysians, particularly Sarawakians, the distinct impression that there is something serious amiss in the handling of the Coxsackie virus infection in allowing the viral attack to go on a rampage for seven weeks before the authorities concerned gave serious attention and took serious action as enlisting international help.
During the whole period of the Coxsackie Virus B infection, the Health Minister never thought the matter serious enough to make a Ministerial statement in Parliament, whether Dewan Rakyat or Dewan Negara when the latter met until last Thursday.
One important item on the agenda after the presentís most urgent task of bringing the Coxsackie Virus B infection under control and to ensure that no more lives are lost is to hold a high-level inquiry as to how the Health Ministry had bungled in not bringing the viral attaction under control and check very much earlier, without having to lose 21 innocent infant lives.