Malaysia vulnerable to spread of Zika virus -- Health Ministry

P. DIVAKARAN The Star 29 Jan 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry has cautioned that Malaysia is vulnerable to the spread of the Zika virus.

Deputy Health Director-General Datuk Dr Lokman Halim Sulaiman said in a statement on Friday that the Ministry was monitoring the spread of the virus and believed that the disease could spread to Malaysia because of the high presence of Aedes mosquitoes in the country.

He said that based on inspections and the high number of dengue cases around the country suggest that the density of Aedes mosquitoes was still high.

Dr Lokman added that the risks brought by the disease were also high as Malaysians had yet to develop an immunity to the virus, making it likely that the disease could spread very quickly among Malaysians.

Earlier Friday, The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it would convene a special emergency meeting on Feb 1 to deal with the Zika virus which was "spreading explosively".

Dr Lokman stressed that although the virus only caused slight fever, rashes on the body and joint pains, the Ministry viewed the matter seriously because the virus had been associated with microcephaly, a birth defect where infants are born with underdeveloped heads.

He also said that it was impractical and difficult to stop the spread of the virus to Malaysia due to its mild symptoms, difficulty in tracing infected people and also because there was also no quick "point of care test" available.

Dr Lokman urged all visitors – especially those from South and Central America and Malaysians returning from infected areas – who exhibit fever and spots to reports themselves to the Quarantine Health Centre or the nearest Health Department as soon as they arrive in Malaysia.

He also advised pregnant women to refrain from visiting infected countries and said that a health alert would be issued to all Government and private health facilities.

There are currently 22 countries that have reported incidences of the Zika virus, mainly located in South America and even in some developed nations like the United States.

Earlier in the week, Taiwan's Health Ministry said that a 24-year-old man was suffering from the disease, probably contracted when he was in northern Thailand.

There is currently no vaccine available for the virus and only the symptoms of the virus can be treated.

Although the virus has not been associated with deaths in adults it has been linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil.

According to the WHO, it could infect as many as four million people in the Americas.

Pregnant women urged to avoid Zika-affected countries
The Star 30 Jan 16;

PETALING JAYA: Pregnant women should not visit Latin American countries for the time being because of the threat of the Zika virus.

The Healthy Ministry issued an advisory against visiting 22 countries and territories: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, US Virgin Islands and Venezuela.

Also included in the list was the Pacific Ocean nation of Samoa.

Health deputy director-general (public health) Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said Central and South America visitors, as well as Malaysians who return from that region, should report to the health quarantine centre or nearby health offices should they develop symptoms of infection.

“An alert has been issued to all government and private health facilities.

“Malaysians travelling to other countries must also take precautionary measures, such as avoiding outdoor activities in the early morning and late evening when Aedes mosquitoes are lurking, wear clothes covering the body and use mosquito repellent,” he said in a statement.

Dr Lokman said so far, there were no Zika-related cases in Malaysia.

“Malaysians do not have immunity against the virus. Therefore, if the virus is brought into the country by affected citizens or visitors, it will spread fast.

“Just like dengue, there is no vaccine or specific medication that can kill the virus. An affected person can be the source of infection to others,” he said.

Dr Lokman noted that Malaysia had a high number of Aedes mosquitoes and it was also burdened with dengue cases.

Reports said that an estimated 80% did not show any symptoms of the disease and the “healthy carriers” ended up spreading the virus without their knowledge.

“Although the disease would only result in mild fever, body rashes and joints pain and does not cause death, we are looking at it seriously because it is associated with microcephaly (a neurological condition in which babies are born with an abnormally small brain and skull).

“It is also linked to the ‘Guillain-Barre’ syndrome,” he said, adding that microcephaly would result in permanent head and brain injuries and affect the baby’s quality of life.

Dr Lokman urged Malaysians to pay serious attention and cooperate with the authorities to destroy mosquito breeding grounds.

“Efforts by all parties must be enhanced to stop the spread of dengue and other health threats caused by mosquitoes,” he said.


Zika, the brand new virus
D DIVAKARAN The Star 30 Jan 16;

PETALING JAYA: Described as a “brand new” virus, researchers are scrambling to understand the very basics, including how to prevent, treat and diagnose the emerging mosquito-borne threat of Zika virus.

Pregnant women are being urged to think twice before travelling to Latin American and Caribbean countries battling a rise in cases of microcephaly - a rare but brutal condition that shrinks the brains of unborn babies.

The virus has expanded swiftly in recent years and been linked to brain damage in babies.

AFP reports Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as saying that "this is a brand-new virus so we, prior to this time, have really not spent anything on Zika."

Nor is there any vaccine on the market yet against dengue virus, which comes from the same family of flaviviruses.
The Malaysian Health Ministry has issued a warning that Malaysia is vulnerable to the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus could infect as many as four million people in the Americas.

The increase has coincided with an outbreak of the usually benign Zika virus. But the virus and the birth defects have not been scientifically linked, leaving many questions about what is happening to these children in the womb.

Here are some questions you need to know of the Zika virus:

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.

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.

For children who survive pregnancy and are born with microcephaly, the future is bleak. In the worst cases, children will be severely intellectually and physically handicapped. But even those less severely affected will likely struggle with psychomotor impairment - characterised by slow thought, speech and physical movements.

HOW DOES A VIRUS AFFECT AN UNBORN CHILD?

Many types of viral infections, such as rubella or cytomegalovirus, can cause physical deformities and intellectual deficiencies, especially during the first three months of pregnancy, when the vital organs are being formed. Viruses can travel through the placenta and infect the foetus directly, sometimes in the brain.

WHY IS MICROCEPHALY THOUGHT TO BE LINKED TO ZIKA VIRUS?

Microcephaly cases seem to have increased in the zone of the Zika outbreak. But also, the virus has been detected in stillborn children with microcephaly, as well as in the amniotic fluid. The link between Zika and microcephaly is highly likely, but has not yet been proven scientifically. The evidence for the link is relatively strong, and considered strong enough to warrant public health measures.

WHAT ARE WE DOING TO LEARN MORE?

Studies are underway in French Polynesia, where a Zika outbreak ocurred around the end of 2013 to beginning of 2014, to better understand how the virus may affect foetuses. In Martinique, where there is an outbreak right now, a trial group of pregnant women is being put together for study.

The difficulty is that people infected with the virus usually have no symptoms. A pregnant woman can thus be infected without knowing it. On the other hand, cases have been observed of pregnant women infected with Zika whose children did not develop microcephaly.

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. - AFP/Reuters

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