Tuesday, May 16, 2006

NEWSFLASH - For all mothers with young babies

SINGAPORE : A week-long campaign will be launched from May 20 to raise awareness about pneumococcal disease and stress the importance of early vaccination.

The disease affects 18 in 100,000 children under five years old in Singapore each year and can cause disability and even death -- yet few people know about it.

Forty-two-year-old Heng Soo Yeow knows the importance of early vaccination against the pneumococcus bug -- in 1999, he lost his three-and-a-half year old son, Darryl, to the disease.

The boy came down with common flu like symptoms, which are also symptoms of pneumococcal disease,in April that year.

Within weeks, his condition worsened and he developed a lung infection as well.
Darryl died about three weeks after he was first diagnosed.

Mr Heng is not taking any chances with his other three children, aged between three and eight years old, and will have them vaccinated with a new vaccine launched in October last year.

Said Mr Heng, "Prevention is better than cure. Don't wait until the last minute when they get it-- then it may be too late ... I do encourage parents with the means to get this vaccine."

The Paediatric Society says vaccination is important as a quarter of those who get the disease will develop complications.

These include infections of the brain covering, blood, and lung, which can lead to learning disabilities, paralysis, brain damage, and even death.

The vaccine, which is about 87 percent effective, will not only protect children who are vaccinated but also reduce their ability to transmit the disease.

Pneumococcus is commonly found in the nose and throat of healthy children and adults, and about 60 percent of children are thought to be carriers.

While not everyone will get sick from the bug, carriers can potentially infect others via respiratory droplets through sneezing, coughing, or close contact.

Because symptoms of the disease are similar to those of the flu virus, the Paediatric Society says that early vaccination for children is encouraged, as parents and even doctors can mistake the disease for the common flu and may treat it as such.

It added that side-effects of the vaccine are minimal, usually resulting in fever.

Said Associate Professor Daniel Goh, president, Singapore Paediatric Society, "The infection in its early stages can also be quite subtle and be difficult to differentiate from common illnesses, and hence prevention is very important.

"Now that we have the availability of a vaccine to prevent this significant infection in young children, I think that the awareness should be brought up to the general public as well as practitioners, that patients who are at risk can receive preventive therapy."

Professor Goh says early prevention is also important as the pneumococcus bug is becoming increasingly difficult to treat with antibiotics and penicillin.

Before, there was no vaccine for children below two years of age; the new vaccine, however, can be administered to children as young as six months old.

It is available at hospitals and clinics, and costs about S$170.

Pneumocccal disease affects not only children but adults as well.

But children below the age of five are more susceptible to the bug, as they have lower immunity to fight off the disease.

A survey of 200 mothers last year found that 92 percent were not aware of this potentially fatal disease.

To reach out to parents, the week-long campaign will include talks and exhibitions at shopping centres around the island, as well as television and print advertisements.

Actress Wong Lilin, who has two young children, will lend star power to help create awareness of the disease. - CNA /ct

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