Covid-19 can become endemic in Malaysia

Dr Helmy Hazmi

KUCHING: Covid-19 may become endemic in Malaysia, said Associate Professor Dr Helmy Hazmi of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

An endemic disease is regularly present or prevalent in a certain region.

“The presence of infected people without symptoms can potentially make Covid-19 an endemic disease. In addition, just recently, airborne transmission has been recognised as a route of travel for Covid-19,” Dr Helmy, who is also a public health physician, told New Sarawak Tribune today.

“Right now, Covid-19 is a pandemic. However, in time to come, Covid-19 could be a constant presence in specific geographical locations or populations,” he said.

Elaborating on the potential shift from the pandemic to the endemic stage, he said the predictability of Covid-19 in an individual or community could be higher, causing Covid-19 to lose its ‘novelty’ over time.

“More people are exposed regularly to Covid-19, on top of the number of people who are vaccinated. By then, Covid-19 will likely achieve an endemic status, where we could even determine the endemic level.

“This is not possible yet as things are pretty dynamic and volatile,” he said.

He noted that there were numerous endemic diseases in Malaysia, which could turn into an outbreak especially when conditions are right, such as the weather, environment and infected person. He cited dengue and malaria as classic examples.

Dr Helmy said the herd immunity concept was important in managing outbreaks.

“It helps to guide us to work objectively to reach a certain level of immunisation within the population,” he explained.

He pointed out that in the current Covid-19 outbreak the 80 percent immunisation level was based on mathematical models and data from previous outbreaks of diseases that have similar infective properties as Covid-19.

“What we must remember is that our knowledge on Covid-19 is still evolving. As more data comes, who knows, we might even need to vaccinate 95 percent of the population – as seen with measles – to prevent widespread disease occurrences or outbreaks,” he said.

Dr Helmy said it would be rather difficult to predict what would happen in the future when Covid-19 becomes endemic.

“We could take our cue from HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It is generally an endemic virus but still considered a pandemic in some areas.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stopped using the term ‘pandemic’, calling it a ‘global epidemic’. We know more about HIV and AIDS, the methods to prevent it, and there are treatments options available. With that people are less scared,” he said.

As with Covid-19, he said people might be less fearful when it becomes endemic. He added that this could be caused by the increase in knowledge, available treatments and vaccinations in the future.

“As with any infection, the main thing is avoiding behaviours that could get a person infected. If it is an airborne disease, then mask up, avoid crowds, and wash your hands often,” advised Dr Helmy.