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Brunei hospitals put on encephalitis alert

Monday, Oct 28, 2013
The Brunei Times/Asia News Network
By Rabiatul Kamit, Bandar Seri Begawan

BRUNEI - Hospitals across the country are placed on alert following cases of Japanese encephalitis (JE) infections that have recently been detected in the Sultanate for the first time.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health Datin Paduka Hjh Norlila Hj Abd Jalil told The Brunei Times cases could be on the rise, with all hospitals currently being on the lookout for patients with symptoms of the viral disease.

However, she also said the majority of suspected cases may test negative for JE.

"After we discovered several cases, we became very vigilant and alerted every hospital," she said.

Of the 12 patients reported to have symptoms of JE since October 17, nine cases were reported in Belait, two cases in Tutong, and one in Brunei-Muara.

To date, six patients have fully recovered.

The permanent secretary said two patients currently under intensive care are expected to be discharged in the coming days. The patients also have pre-existing medical conditions.

"Alhamdulillah, the cases have all been stable," she added.

Transmitted by culex mosquitoes, JE is endemic in many countries in Asia and is similar to other infections such as dengue, malaria, chikungunya as well as filariasis.

Although no cases of JE infections have been reported in the Sultanate in the past, Datin Hjh Norlila noted the viral disease is "probably" endemic in the country.

"We have the mosquitoes. Our people have found it, and we know that neighbouring areas like Sarawak have got people with the infection," she said, suggesting the spread of JE could also be due to cross-border travel.

Following detailed investigations on all patients, only three from Belait district were confirmed by laboratory tests to have been infected by JE.

Most cases do not show any symptoms, according to a press statement from the ministry. However, in a small number of cases, patients may show signs such as fever, headache, nausea and vomiting.

After a few days, the infection may cause mental abnormalities, neurological symptoms, weakness and motor disturbances.

Convulsions may also occur, especially among children.

There is no specific treatment for the JE infection, however, focus is put on supportive treatment to relieve symptoms, in addition to close monitoring in hospital, if needed.

Patients are advised to take their medication as instructed by their doctors, and have adequate rest and fluids.

The JE virus lives mainly in pigs, horses and a variety of wild birds. Mosquitoes that bite infected animals will cause the virus to propagate, thus causing humans to contract the virus through these mosquito bites.

Surveys have shown the culex mosquito can be found in many places in Brunei.

For further inquiries regarding the JE infection in Brunei, the public may contact the healthline at 145 or email env.health@moh.gov.bn.

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