Before you move to Malaysia, it is advisable to consult your GP and check if there is need for any vaccinations or preventive health measures. It is best to do this at least eight weeks before you travel. It’s also important to ensure that you have the proper health insurance that can cover any medical treatment overseas. Public and private hospitals in Malaysia charge for services and private healthcare can be quite expensive. But expats can expect some of the best quality healthcare in the world here and this is especially evident in the large cities like Kuala Lumpur. Here are some of the health risks in Malaysia that expats should be aware of, so they can take the necessary preventive measures.Diseases transmitted by insects or animals
Malaria is prevalent in areas such as Borneo, Sarawak, Pahang, Sabah and Perak. These malarial strains are also highly resistant to drugs. Mosquitoes are also responsible for other diseases such as dengue fever and again the risk is higher in the regions mentioned before. Dengue fever is also endemic in the urban areas, even in cities like Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The year 2009 even saw a nationwide dengue alert, as nearly 38,000 cases were reported across the country. The symptoms of Dengue fever include nausea, rash, muscle aches, joint pain, headache and fever. Malaysia has also witnessed a chikungunya outbreak in the past. This is another disease transmitted by mosquitoes that leads to symptoms like fever, joint pain, nausea and headache. In the rural areas of Malaysia, there have been cases of Japanese encephalitis. Spread by mosquito bites, this disease may cause symptoms like fever and headache, or in some cases no symptoms at all.
The Nipah virus, transmitted via close contact with infected animals, was discovered in 1999. The symptoms initially include muscle and fever and as the disease progresses, encephalitis and disorientation can also occur.
Some cases of animal rabies have also been reported in Malaysia.
A few serious cases of leptospirosis were reported in 2010. This is a bacterial infection that spreads by exposure to water that has been contaminated by the urine of infected animals. The symptoms include fever, chills, muscle pain, conjunctivitis and rash.
There is no advisory against travel to Malaysia currently, but it is recommended that visitors avoid exposure to live poultry to protect against transmission of avian influenza. Therefore avoid visits to markets with live birds or poultry farms.
There are some precautions you can take to protect yourself against mosquito and other insect bites. If you are in a mosquito-infested area, cover your skin with protective clothing, remain in air-conditioned or screened rooms and use a bed net at night. Also make sure to use a repellent that provides adequate protection and stays effective up to several hours.
Malaysia is prone to high levels of atmospheric pollution due to the ongoing problem of haze. Individuals with weak immune systems or those who suffer from respiratory problems may face discomfort due to the air pollution. Remember to check the local air quality updates so you can be prepared for periods when the air quality is poor. Also, prevent haze from entering the home by keeping doors, windows and other openings closed. Use an air purifier to keep the particulate levels inside the home low. You may also want to install an air-cleaning device if you live in a building that has central air conditioning.
Food and water-borne diseases
There have been some outbreaks of cholera in Malaysia. It spreads through ingestion of contaminated food and water and is prevalent in areas with a lack of clean drinking water and where there is poor sanitation. Expats should take general precautions regarding food and water. The same precautions will also help to prevent diarrheic diseases. Avoid eating food that has been kept at room temperature, food from street vendors where the sanitary conditions are suspect, raw food, unwashed and unpeeled vegetables and fruits, unpasteurized dairy products and bushmeat (wild meat or game meat). Drink bottled water and avoid using ice that has not been made with clean water. Keep a store of your prescription or over-the-counter medications with you in case you get sick.