Zika travel warnings hit Myanmar as WHO calls for increased prevention
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.