The Health Ministry has ruled out leptospirosis and tuberculosis (TB) as the cause of the infection inundating the Bateq community in Kampung Kuala Koh in Gua Musang, Kelantan, where 14 of them have died.
However, the cause of the infection is still unknown at this juncture, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said.
“Till today, the cause of the infection is yet to be determined. Even so, the results of tests for TB and leptospirosis were negative.
“I am confident the answer to this question will be resolved soon,” Dzulkefly said in a statement.
The statement was issued following the minister’s visit to the Gua Musang Hospital, where several Orang Asli are being treated, and a briefing given yesterday by the Kelantan Health Department and the Gua Musang district health office.
Both leptospirosis and TB are bacterial diseases. TB is a highly contagious infection that can spread through the air from coughs and sneezes, while leptospirosis spreads through the urine of infected animals, including wild animals and rats.
Dzulkefly said he had also visited the Bateq community at their relocated area, two kilometres away from their original location at Kampung Orang Asli Kuala Koh.
“I felt sorry when I saw the living conditions of the Orang Asli there, without water or electricity source… I was informed this matter has been noted by the Inter-Agency Committee Meeting today and action will be taken,” he said.
Fourteen Bateq tribe members died in the past month, allegedly from pneumonia caused by a mysterious infection, while many more tribe members are said to be infected by the same disease.
To date, 50 Orang Asli from the Bateq tribe are still receiving treatment at three hospitals in the state, 37 of them at the Gua Musang Hospital, 12 at Kuala Krai Hospital and one at the intensive care unit of the Raja Perempuan Zainab II Hospital in Kota Bharu.
The authorities have only been able to perform the post-mortem on two of the deceased as the remaining 12 bodies, buried in the jungle according to customary Bateq tribe funeral rites, have yet to be located.
Yesterday, Dzulkelfly said his ministry was willing to carry out the tests if asked to help detect the disease, should the bodies of the 12 buried Orang Asli be found.
Meanwhile, the Kelantan Health Department has cordoned off the village in a bid to curb the spread of the unidentified disease.
Several quarters have claimed that the deaths and outbreak are linked to water contamination from a nearby iron ore mine.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has promised the government would look into this claim and vowed stern action against the culprits if this claim of water contamination is found to be true.