Update: Thailand confirms first case of Zika virus

"So far, 732 cases have been examined. In 462 of them, either no microcephaly was found, or it was caused by something other than an infection, such as alcohol or drug abuse by the mother during pregnancy," the Health Ministry said.

A 22-year-old man has contracted the virus in Thailand, officials said Tuesday (2 Feb), as global alert intensifies over the mosquito-borne infection that is being blamed for causing serious birth defects in South America.

Authorities stated that the man most likely caught the same strain of virus that had caused panic in countries like Brazil and Colombia. The virus had been “confirmed by blood tests”, according to Air Vice Marshall Santi Srisermpoke, the director of Bangkok’s Bhumibol Adulyadej Hospital.

His symptoms had included a fever, rashes, and redness of eyes, said Srisermpoke, and added that the man had not travelled overseas

The man has since recovered and has been discharged from hospital, and did not provide more details of how long he had been in hospital for, or where he had contracted the sickness from.

The director-general of the Disease Control Department of the Public Health Ministry, Amnuay Gajeena, said that it was “likely to be the same strain as the one found in South America”.

“It’s not a new disease in Thailand… we had the first confirmed case in 2012. Since then we have an average of not more than five cases yearly,” he said.

“There is no need to panic… we have never had an epidemic of the Zika virus in Thailand all of the cases were one-offs".

Clikc on the next page to find out more about the Zika virus and microcephaly 

Pregnant women are being urged to think twice before travelling to Latin America and Caribbean countries fighting against the increased cases of microcephaly - a rare but cruel condition that shrinks the brains of unborn babies.

The increase has coincided with the outbreak of the usually mild Zika virus. The two have not been scientifically linked, leaving us with many questions about the two.

What is microcephaly?

"Babies with microcephaly have an abnormally small brain and skull for their age, in the womb or at birth, with varying degrees of brain damage as a result. It has many potential causes: infections, viruses, toxins or unknown genetic factors."

- Jean-Francois Delfraissy of France's Inserm medical research institute.

What are the consequences for the child?

"In serious cases, early death. If the brain is under-developed, the body cannot function properly. In French Polynesia (one of the regions affected), these deformities have caused most of the babies to be stillborn, as the unborn infants simply cannot survive."

- Andre Cabie, infections disease head at the University Hospital of Martinique.

Is Zika contagious between people?

"There has been a case of sexual transmission, and theoretically transmission by transplantation or transfusion cannot be ruled out. The main route of infection is through mosquitoes."

- Alain Kohl of the University of Glasgow's Centre for Virus Research.

News Source: The Straits Times

The Zika virus, which is responsible for causing birth defects in babies, is “spreading explosively”, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Margaret Chan said yesterday.

Dr Chan told a meeting of WHO members states in Geneva that “the level of alarm is extremely high”, and is calling for a meeting on the 1 February to determine if the outbreak is spreading through to more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean qualifies as an international public health emergency.

The world health body has said that it expects to see 3 million to 4 million cases of the virus in the Americas.

During the previous outbreaks, Dr Chan said that the virus - which originated from Africa and arrived in Latin America last year - “occasionally caused a mild disease of low concern”. However, she stated that “the situation today is dramatically different”, drawing special attention to the raising concern that Zika has links to a birth defect known as microcephaly, or an abnormally small head.

"A causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth malformations and neurological syndromes has not yet been established, but is strongly suspected," she said.

The WHO’s response came after Brazil - the country most affected by the Zika virus - vowed to declare a war against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the virus, and to focus on getting rid of the insect’s breeding grounds. They have sought help from their neighbours to unite in fighting the virus, as news of the virus had caused airlines to offer refunds to pregnant mothers afraid to travel to the region.

Brazil’s Health Ministry on Wednesday also issued new statistics about the virus that offered reasons for continued concern - but also a glimmer of hope. The health authorities said that the number of reported cases of microcephaly had increased  to 4,180 since last October, a 7 percent increase from the previous tally a week ago.

Before the epidemic, Brazil had recorded only about 150 cases of microcephaly each year.

Officials have now said that they have begun close investigations on the cases that have been reported. 732 cases have been examined so far. Out of these cases, 462 have either been found to contain no microcephaly, or it was caused by something other than an infection (alcohol or drug abuse by the mother during pregnancy).

A spokesman for the Health Ministry had said that the congenital infections had caused 270 cases of microcephaly, but the Zika virus had only been found in 6 infants.

Dr Artur Timerman, a leading infectious disease specialist in Sao Paulo, stated that just because the Zika virus had been found in only 6 infants, it does not mean that Zika is not causing the broad increase in microcephaly cases.

He further explains that Brazil’s ability to test effectively for Zika remained “very inefficient” as the authorities still lack up-to-date methods.

Dr Timerman added that as a result of these non-advanced methods, tests used in Brazil could only detect Zika in pregnant women or infants only during the acute stage of the virus, which lasts about 5 to 6 days.

According to him, Brazil’s number of suspected cases of microcephaly pointed towards a sharp increase.

There is currently no known vaccine or treatment for Zika, which causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. About 80 percent of people infected show no symptoms, making it hard for pregnant women to know if they have been infected or not.

News Source: The Straits Times 

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