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More infections from the mosquito-borne virus Zika is being reported across Southeast Asia, but few in the region still understand what it is and how to fight it.
Since the first infection from Brazil was reported in 2015, the virus has steadily spread outward, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak as an international health emergency in February this year.
Within ASEAN, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have documented their respective cases. Nevertheless, according to Reuters, health experts claim that Zika remains under-reported in the region because the virus’ relatively mild symptoms allow carriers to go undetected. Furthermore, authorities have yet to conduct adequate screening in each country.
At present, the worst Zika scenario is in Singapore, which has reached a total of 275 confirmed cases to date. The virus is so far reaching in the city state that on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told ASEAN leaders at Laos that that Zika, like dengue, may reach endemic proportions.
CBCNews had previously reported that Singapore’s Health Ministry has stopped placing patients in quarantine because the number of infected people (who show no symptoms) is too large.
One theory why Singapore is reporting so many cases of infections may be that the city-state’s screening procedures are being run in a more efficient manner.
The Philippines comes a close second with at least five cases documented, the most recent one involving a 45-year-old married woman in the province of Iloilo. The case comes as the first locally transmitted infection in the tropical country. The woman has reported no history of travelling abroad. Four other Zika cases had been documented in 2012, with all cases involving foreigners.
Malaysia has also documented one fatality related to the virus, a 61- year old man in Kota Kinabalu, while at least one woman living near Kuala Lumpur, and who had just come from visiting Singapore, registered as having the virus. In response, Malaysia has increased insecticide sprays and health checks at the border near Singapore, to vet some 200,000 that pass through daily.
The problem, Malaysia’s doctors say, is that compared to Singapore, Malaysia’s volume of Aedes mosquitos are much larger and the breeding grounds are more numerous in the green Asian country compared to Singapore’s vastly concrete city-state. Once local transmission begins, it may be hard to control it in a population of 30M.
Despite its dangers, people in Southeast Asia are still unaware of the basics of Zika other than the infection may be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her child and that a fetus that contracts Zika may be born with microcephaly, a condition that causes infants to have unformed skulls, underdeveloped brains and other congenital defects.
What the public should note is that the virus ranks at the same level as dengue, and can be transmitted through mosquito bites as well as through exchanges of bodily fluids. This means that Zika can also pass between individuals through sex or through any activity that transmits the blood of a carrier to a victim.