Zika travel warn­ings hit Myan­mar as WHO calls for in­creased preven­tion

The Myanmar Times - - News - NICK BAKER

n.baker@mm­times.com

SUR­ROUNDED by coun­tries bat­tling out­breaks of Zika virus, Myan­mar has been pegged as at “high risk” for a sim­i­lar fate, with a US health alert last week ad­vis­ing preg­nant trav­ellers to post­pone all nonessen­tial vis­its.

Amid th­ese warn­ings, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion called on Myan­mar to take “stronger mea­sures” against the virus, es­pe­cially as Thai­land con­firmed over the week­end two cases of Zika-re­lated mi­cro­cephaly in new­borns. Th­ese are be­lieved to be the first con­firmed cases link­ing the sick­ness to the birth de­fect in South­east Asia.

On Septem­ber 29, the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion rec­om­mended preg­nant women re­con­sider travel to Myan­mar along with 10 other South­east Asian na­tions.

Al­though there are yet to be pub­li­cised Zika cases here, a CDCP an­nounce­ment said there had been “re­cent vari­a­tions in the num­ber of cases re­ported in the area” and that the ex­act risk in Myan­mar re­mained “un­cer­tain”.

It ad­vised preg­nant women who travel or live in the re­gion to talk to their doc­tor and strictly fol­low steps to pre­vent mos­quito bites.

This was fol­lowed by a Septem­ber 30 state­ment from the WHO rec­om­mend­ing that Myan­mar and nearby coun­tries ramp up preven­tion and re­sponse tac­tics while the gen­eral pub­lic was called on “to be on the front­lines of mos­quito con­trol”.

“House­holds are en­cour­aged to dis­rupt stand­ing wa­ter that can gather in gut­ters, pot plants, and spare or dis­carded tyres and to dis­pose of house­hold waste in sealed plas­tic bags,” said Dr Poonam Khetra­pal Singh, re­gional di­rec­tor of WHO South­east Asia.

A WHO state­ment said the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, and es­pe­cially preg­nant women, should take pre­cau­tions to limit mos­quito-hu­man con­tact such as “wear­ing long-sleeved, light col­ored cloth­ing; us­ing mos­quito re­pel­lant; sleep­ing un­der a bed net; and fit­ting win­dows and doors with screens wher­ever pos­si­ble”.

As the Zika virus can also be trans­mit­ted sex­u­ally, the WHO ad­vised that “preg­nant women’s sex­ual part­ners liv­ing in or re­turn­ing from ar­eas with Zika virus out­breaks should en­sure safer sex or ab­stain from sex for the du­ra­tion of their part­ner’s preg­nancy”.

Gov­ern­ment health of­fi­cials told The Myan­mar Times last month that pre­cau­tion­ary steps against Zika were be­ing in­creased af­ter the re­cent out­break in Sin­ga­pore.

Dr Christoph Gels­dorf of the Myan­mar Academy of Fam­ily Physi­cians said that that the cur­rent risk of Zika in Myan­mar re­mains much lower than other com­pli­ca­tions dur­ing a preg­nancy.

“[And] the mos­quito that car­ries the virus, aedes ae­gypti, is most preva­lent in rainy sea­son so pre­sum­ably the dan­ger will be re­duced as we en­ter the dry sea­son,” he said.

Peo­ple who con­tract the Zika virus usu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence symp­toms of a mild fever, skin rash and con­junc­tivi­tis. Th­ese symp­toms nor­mally last for two to seven days. But preg­nant women with Zika risk giv­ing birth to ba­bies with mi­cro­cephaly.

The virus was first iden­ti­fied in Uganda and the United Repub­lic of Tan­za­nia in the mid-20th cen­tury. Out­breaks have been recorded in Africa, the Amer­i­cas, Asia and the Pa­cific since then.

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