Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Wash hands to keep Ebola away

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: Washing hands with water and soap and sanitising regularly are among the simplest ways to prevent the transmission of the Ebola virus.

Sean G. Kaufman, a biosafety expert, advised Malaysians not to be overly worried or afraid of Ebola, as the virus was very fragile and could be “inactivated” through such precautionary measures.

He said although Ebola was considered a deadly virus, preventive methods had proven to work.

“Out of all the deadly viruses that exist, Ebola is one of the easiest to be deactivated. Ebola is a lipid-enveloped virus which means the virus is coated with a protective layer that protects the virus and the layer can be weakened.

“Any common household detergent can easily weaken that envelope and kill the virus,” he said after attending a workshop on biorisk awareness “Infection Prevention and Control for Ebola Viral Disease Management” here yesterday.

The workshop was organised by the Malaysian Biosafety and Biosecurity Association (MBBA) to educate the clinical workforce to be fully prepared if Ebola were to infect Malaysians.


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‘Global effort needed to fight Ebola’

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: To effectively combat the Ebola outbreak, international communities should work together to coordinate and mobilise resources to ensure adequate humanitarian response on the ground, says Malaysia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) Datuk Hussein Haniff.

He said at this juncture, it was crucial to ensure that support to the affected countries was coordinated and sustained at an international level.

“It is also important for all UN agencies to stay proactive, coordinated and flexible in responding to the unparalleled challenges posed by this deadly epidemic,” he said at the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday.

“The challenges posed by the outbreak would be overwhelming for any single country to cope alone.”

Hussein said Malaysia commended the contributions and pledges by countries to fight the pandemic.


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State of our health

Saturday, September 20th, 2014


If Malaysia went for a full health check today, this is what doctors will say, writes Kasmiah Mustapha

LIKE most other countries around the world, Malaysia is grappling with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which include heart disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the top five contributors to the health burden in the country are NCDs, similar to those of developed nations.

WHO, which described NCDs as an invisible epidemic, stated that these diseases were driven by forces, such as rapid unplanned urbanisation and unhealthy lifestyles.

At the same time, Malaysia also have to deal with other issues, such the emerging and re-emerging of infectious diseases. Here’s a look at the major health issues the country is facing at this time:


In Malaysia, coronary heart disease has been the number one killer for the past three decades. According to the National Cardiovascular Disease Database, the average age of heart attack sufferers is 59. While there is no official data, there are cases of people younger than 40.

Data also showed that of the 16,866 patient admissions from 15 main hospitals in Malaysia from 2006 to 2010, the rate of in-hospital mortality for heart attack was 10 per cent. Sudden death cases are almost usually determined as due to heart attacks. Between 70 and 80 per cent of sudden cardiac deaths are caused by coronary heart disease.

Factors that increase the risk of coronary heart disease include being overweight, high levels of cholesterol, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, high blood pressure and diabetes.

What we can do: With the increasing number of childhood obesity and young smokers, it is likely that younger people will suffer from coronary heart disease. This is because many risk factors start during childhood and some can even develop within the first 10 years of life. Behavioural changes are important to prevent coronary heart diseas and avoid fatal heart attacks.


In the second National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) in 1996, it was found that 4.4 per cent and 16.6 per cent of the adult population were obese and overweight respectively. In the latest survey conducted in 2011, the figure have increased to 5.4 million or 33.3 per cent of adults are pre-obese and 27.2 per cent or 4.4 million are obese.

It seems that obesity in the country has even surpassed that of neighbouring countries. A recent study published by the British medical journal The Lancet has put the country as Asia’s most obese. The study showed that 49 per cent of Malaysian women and 44 per cent of men were either obese or overweight.

Childhood obesity is also another problem that the country is facing. Results from a study by the Institute for Public Health of the Health Ministry found that the prevalence of overall overweight among Malaysia’ primary school children — between 7 and 12 years old— was at 19.9 per cent. One out of five are overweight.

What we can do: Sedentary living and an unhealthy diet have been blamed for the rising number of people who are overweight and obese. It is important that each individual and parents be aware of the impact of obesity as it is not a solitary health issue. Obesity poses a major risk for serious diet-related NCDs, including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke and certain forms of cancer.


The fourth NHMS 2011 showed that there has been an increase of 20.8 per cent rate of diabetes from five years earlier. In 2001, it was 8.3 per cent among adults above the age of 30. In 1986, the first NHMS reported a prevalence of diabetes at 6.3 per cent.


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‘Set up more mental healthcare centres’

Monday, September 8th, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has been called to set up more Community Mental Healthcare Centres (CMHCC) and to organise extensive mental health programmes to address the growing number of people affected by mental disorders.

Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the government should allocate more funds to the ministry in the 2015 Budget to tackle the escalating number of mental disorder cases nationwide.

“The setting up of CMHCCs is a good approach and will help deal with stigmatisation, create awareness on mental health and empower the service users and their families.

“Such centres should be established in every state,” he said in a statement.

Social inclusion, recovery, and community reintegration had been touted as the main principles of the mental health system, he said.

The National Health and Morbidity Report 2011 showed that 1.7 per cent of Malaysian adults expressed suicidal tendencies, 0.9 per cent had planned to commit suicide, while 0.5 per cent had attempted suicide.

Lee said the number of suicides reported by the ministry could be under-reported, as there were also cases of other social problems that reflected the country’s mental health status.

“The suicide rates disclosed by the Health Ministry could be higher because these figures were based on post-mortem evidence.

“Other social ills, such as divorce, child abuse and baby dumping are also a reflection of the mental health status of the population,” he said, adding that there was growing evidence of increasing mental diseases.

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People in pain more likely to develop insomnia

Friday, September 5th, 2014

The risk of long-term sleep problems are higher for people reporting widespread pain, says new study.

Older adults with pain for more than a day are more likely to report trouble sleeping years later, according to a new study. It might not be just the pain that’s leading to insomnia, the researchers say. Instead, much of the connection could be explained by lifestyle changes that often happen due to persistent pain, says lead author Nicole KY Tang of the University of Warwick in Coventry, in the UK.

Little is known about how the presence of pain leads to the development of insomnia, says expert. – Filepic

“Although we know that people with chronic pain are more likely to report problems sleeping than people without any pain, we know very little about how the presence of pain leads to the development of insomnia,” says Tang.

Tang and her team mailed questionnaires to all people age 50 or older registered with GPs in North Staffordshire. People with pain lasting more than one day in the previous month were asked to shade the area of pain on a blank body diagram.

Researchers considered those with pain on both sides of the body, above and below the waist, and in the bones of the head, spine or ribs to have ‘widespread pain,’ while the others had ‘some pain.’

Participants were also asked to complete a sleep questionnaire. Anyone with trouble falling or staying asleep, waking early, and waking up feeling tired and worn out on most nights of the last month were put in the insomnia category.

Three years after the original survey, the researchers sent out repeat questionnaires. Altogether they had answers from 6,676 people.

About 3,000 had some pain at the beginning of the study, while about 1,800 had none and 1,800 had widespread pain.

At the beginning, most people with each kind of sleep problem had widespread pain, fewer had some pain – and very few had no pain at all.

Three years later, compared to people without pain at the start, the people with pain were more likely to say their sleep problems had worsened, according to results in the journal Rheumatology. And those with widespread pain at the start were twice as likely to develop insomnia as those with no pain.


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His health: The manly thing to do

Friday, September 5th, 2014

The challenges to improving men’s health are myriad, not least of which is the general male attitude towards taking care of their health.

There was a man who had never seen a doctor in his adult life. One day, after retirement, he had chest pains while climbing the stairs. Two days later, he had a heart attack and died.

This could serve as a cautionary tale for most men, who often treat their health as an afterthought, assuming that they have ample time and opportunity to fix the problems as and when they occur.

Men’s health issues have long been over-simplified, running the risk of becoming a parody, such as the one where middle-aged men lament about erectile dysfunction while their long-suffering wives look on.

This one-dimensional perspective does not even begin to hint at the complex spectrum of factors that contribute to men’s health, including different life stages, socio-economic factors, traditional and cultural stereotypes, as well as changing disease trends.

Yet, here we are – with several generations of men who have witnessed rapid socio-economic development, dramatic cultural changes and sophisticated medical and technological advances, but relatively far less progress made in terms of creating an environment where men are encouraged to take control of their health.

Important man-date: There's a complex spectrum of factors that contribute to men's health, including different life stages, socio-economic factors, traditional and cultural stereotypes, as well as changing disease trends. - MCT

Important man-date: There’s a complex spectrum of factors that contribute to men’s health, including different life stages, socio-economic factors, traditional and cultural stereotypes, as well as changing disease trends. – MCT

A complex, layered picture

Let’s look at the context in which men live and age today. It is a rapidly greying world, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) noting that “the proportion of people aged over 60 years is growing faster than any other age group, as a result of both longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates”.

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Trouble sleeping: a warning sign of suicide in older adults

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

In a new study, people age 65 and older who reported trouble sleeping were more likely to commit suicide than those who slept well.

Doctors who treat patients with depression or a history of suicide attempts should consider sleep problems a further warning sign, experts say.

“The majority of individuals who die by suicide visit their doctor in the months preceding, and these are missed opportunities to enhance detection and intervene,” says lead author Rebecca A Bernert of the Stanford Mood Disorders Centre at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

While having poor sleep does not necessarily bring of suicide tendencies, researchers believe that it could be an early warning to underlining depression. – Filepic

Sleep can stand alone as a risk factor for death by suicide, even when depression is accounted for, Bernert says, though sleep problems are common for many people who should not be alarmed by this news.

Of the 14,456 people researchers followed over 10 years, 20 died by suicide. The study team compared the answers those 20 people gave in a series of interviews to questions about symptoms of depression, and mental and physical functioning to the answers of 400 others similar in age, sex and location.

Those who went on to commit suicide tended to rate their sleep poorer at the start of the study than the comparison group, which was true even when researchers took symptoms of clinical depression into account.

With depression accounted for, poor sleep quality was associated with a 20% higher risk of death by suicide, Bernert explained. Since only 20 out of nearly 15,000 people in this study died by suicide, even with a 20 percent increase in risk the absolute chance of dying by suicide would still be less than two tenths of one percent.


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Antibiotics linked to risk of heart death, says study

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Danish researchers reported a link between a commonly used antibiotic and a risk of heart deaths, while observers urged caution in interpreting the results.

Be careful with your meds. Certain popular antibiotics may lead to heart problems, says new study. - Filepic

Be careful with your meds. Certain popular antibiotics may lead to heart problems, says new study. – Filepic

In a study published online by the British medical journal The BMJ, the team said clarithromycin use was associated with a 76% higher risk of cardiac death, compared to use of penicillin V.

“The absolute risk difference was 37 cardiac deaths per 1 million courses with clarithromycin,” reports the trio from the Statens Serum Institute’s epidemiology department in Copenhagen. The risk stopped when treatment ended.

Clarithromycin is prescribed to millions of people every year, to treat bacterial infections like pneumonia, bronchitis and some skin infections.

The team had analysed data from more than five million antibiotics courses given to Danish adults aged 40 to 74 in the period 1997 to 2011. Of the patients, just over 160,000 had received clarithromycin, 590,000 roxithromycin, and 4.4 million penicillin V.

Popular antibiotics may increase the risk of cardiac problems, says research. – Filepic

Clarithromycin and roxithromycin are macrolides or antibiotics that affect the electrical activity of the heart muscle and are thought to increase the risk of fatal heart rhythm problems, the researchers say. No increased in risk was observed with roxithromycin.

While the absolute increase in risk with clarithromycin was small, the team says, it was “one of the more commonly used antibiotics in many countries, and the total number of excess cardiac deaths may not be negligible”.

The researchers called for their findings to be confirmed in further studies, even as a host of other experts pointed out that the study did not warrant a halt to clarithromycin use.


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Alarm bells over Ebola outbreak

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Ebola is a deadly disease, with no approved cure. This raises various issues, and urgent steps must be taken to contain and fight it.

THE Ebola outbreak in several West African countries is cau­sing concern all over the world. That is easy to understand. Ebola is a deadly disease, more than half of those contracting it can die, there is so far no cure and it seems to be quite easily passed on from one person to another.

Almost 2,000 people are known to have been infected and more than a thousand have died, and even this is probably a significant under-estimate.

In the most affected countries, medical facilities are over-stretched, and supplies of personal protective equipment and disinfectants are inadequate and a crisis atmosphere has developed.

Also, more alarming is that many doctors, other medical personnel and social workers who have been helping the victims, have themselves come down with the disease.

According to one report, more than 170 health-related workers have been infected and some have died, including the leading doctor fighting the disease in Sierra Leone, and a Spanish priest running a fa­­ci­lity providing assistance to pa­­tients.

This news prompts us to really appreciate those medical and social workers who are prepared to take risks to live up to the best ideals of their noble professions.


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More mental health issues soon

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

PETALING JAYA: More Malaysians are expected to suffer mental health problems but treatment alone is insufficient to reduce this public health burden, according to the Health Ministry.

The ministry’s Mental Health Unit public health physician Dr Nurashikin Ibrahim said as the country became more urbanised, Malaysians were facing more job-related stress, and a high risk of developing psychosocial problems.

She said among children and adolescents, loneliness, parental discord, poor parenting style, parents’ mental health status and parent-child relationships could all contribute to their state of mental health.

“Generally, there has been an increasing burden of mental health problems over the past 10 years and it is expected to rise over the next 20 years unless measures are taken to address those issues,” Dr Nurashikin told The Star.

She said other factors that could also lead to poor mental health were poverty, homelessness, unsafe environments, peer pressure and unemployment.

Results of the 2011 National Health and Morbidity Survey showed that 12% of Malaysians aged between 18 and 60, suffered from mental health problems.

The survey also showed that the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders among adults was 1.8% and 1.7% respectively.

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is expected to be the leading cause of disability by 2020.

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