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Disease fears rise after floods hit Malaysia

By Jalil Hamid

SERI MEDAN, Malaysia (Reuters) – Fears of disease gripped Malaysia’s flood-devastated south on Monday and more than 100,000 evacuees were crammed into emergency shelters.

Two people have died from leptospirosis, caused by exposure to water contaminated with the urine of animals such as rats, bringing the death toll from the worst floods in nearly 40 years to 15.

Health workers planned to step up inoculations against typhoid and fumigate mosquito-prone areas to guard against diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Warnings have also been issued about cholera.

Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told the Sun mobile phone news service that 106 schools in the hardest-hit state of Johor had been shut and would be used as relief centers. More than 40 schools were already inundated, the report added.

Tens of thousands of victims also faced food shortages following the return of heavy monsoon rains to southern states after last month’s severe flooding.

“We are in grave need of food supplies,” Welfare Minister Shahrizat Jalil said.

There were also reported cases of looting from abandoned homes, officials said.

Abdul Latif Sapri, a truck driver, and his family have been taking shelter at a relief camp for the past 26 days after floods swept through their riverside house last month.

The 55-year-old, who has been having sleepless nights from the flood trauma, says he is uncertain about his future.

“I’m puzzled why this is happening to me,” Latif said in a crowded badminton hall-turned-relief center in Seri Medan, a rural town in Johor.

Residents in Seri Medan said there was at least one case of malaria as well as several cases of jaundice.

“A 40-year-old Malay woman is in hospital with malaria,” Abdul Latif, the flood victim, said.

Health department deputy chief Ramlee Rahmat warned the public not to play in dirty flood water and to wear clothes that covered their bodies to prevent them from becoming infected.

“But we are more concerned about food and water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera because those can spread fast. We are monitoring the situation,” Ramlee told Reuters.

The symptoms of leptospirosis include diarrhea, vomiting and kidney or liver problems.

The government said many people, who had returned home after the first floods, refused to leave home again.

“I cannot stress the urgency of evacuation enough,” said Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman.

“The longer people opt to stay in their flooded homes, the higher the chances of facing the threat of attacks and diseases from animals,” he said.

The latest floods cut off several towns in Johor, which is a major oil palm and rubber growing region, and shut down power and water supplies. Johor is just across a narrow strait from Singapore, which has also been hit by days of heavy rain.

The damage bill from last month’s floods, which also displaced more than 100,000 people, was estimated at more than 100 million ringgit ($28 million).

Flood victims in Johor complained of inadequate supplies and cash aid.

“We don’t have blankets, mattresses, pillows, soaps, infant’s milk at this relief center,” said Mohamad Jamian, 57, who is taking refuge at a school.

“We have not seen the 500 ringgit promised by the government. But there are a lot of mosquitoes.”

($1 = 3.5 ringgit)


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