Indonesia: No need to panic over Zika says government

Nurul Fitri Ramadhani and Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 27 Jan 16;

The Health Ministry has said there was no reason to panic over the possible spread of Zika, a virus suspected of causing a rare birth defect. The ministry stated that no infections had been reported in the country, or even in the ASEAN region.

The ministry, however, warned Indonesian nationals against traveling to areas prone to the virus, such as South America.

“The government doesn’t see any need to impose a travel ban, but we recommend that people reconsider traveling to those areas until local authorities in those countries declare that the situation is under control” Health Ministry secretary-general Untung Suseno Sutarjo told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ratna Budi Hapsari, the head of the emerging infectious diseases sub-directorate at the ministry, said that the government would step up its monitoring efforts to prevent the virus from entering the country.

“We have entry points at ports and airports. We will boost [surveillance] there,” she told reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Health authorities have grown concerned with the spread of the dengue-like Zika virus since scientists in northeastern Brazil witnessed a surge in microcephaly cases, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads. The virus can affect motor skills and cause mental retardation.

Since then, Brazilian health officials have linked Zika to the microcephaly cases, with the country recording nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly since October last year.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile.

The organization also reported that the disease’s rapid spread was due to a lack of immunity among the population and the prevalence of active Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the vector that transmits the virus. The same vector carries chikungunya and dengue fever.

Both Zika and dengue fever show similar early symptoms such as fever, rashes and joint pain. However, the clinical manifestation of Zika is not as severe as dengue fever, which can lead to shock and death.

According to Untung, in a tropical country like Indonesia, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito tends to breed within people’s homes and usually produces an outbreak of dengue fever when the rainy season enters its peak.

Untung said that the preventative measures directed toward Zika would mirror those deployed against dengue fever. These measures usually center on eliminating potential mosquito breeding places such as those found in bath tubs, sinks and water tanks.

“We are familiar with dengue fever and we already know what to do. As long as we keep up cleanliness, we are on the right track to preventing Zika,” Untung said, adding that he was more worried about dengue fever than Zika.

Nasronuddin, the head of Institute of Tropical Diseases (ITD) at Airlangga University in Surabaya, said that until now, there existed no medicine to cure the disease.

“To avoid the infection, we really have to keep clean and take care of our immune system,” he said.

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