Thailand confirms SE Asia’s first Zika-linked birth defects

Posted By on September 30, 2016

30 September 2016 – The World Health Organisation has called on South East Asia governments to strengthen measures against the spread of Zika virus.

It comes after Thailand confirmed two babies were born with microcephaly believed to have been caused by the virus.

It is the first time the condition, which results in babies being born with small heads, has been linked to Zika transmission in Asia.

The findings were confirmed by Prasert Thongcharoen from Thailand’s Department for Disease Control, who also dismissed suggestions authorities were attempting to underplay the significance of the outbreak for fears of it impacting on the tourist industry on which Thailand’s economy depends.

“Thailand is not hiding anything, and is ready to disclose everything,” he said.

In a statement, the WHO’s regional director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh praised Thailand’s efforts to combat Zika so far, but also urged countries around the region to increase their efforts to prevent further spread of the virus.

“Thailand’s diligence underscores the commitment of health authorities to the health and well being of the Thai public, and provides a positive example to be emulated,” said Dr Singh.

But, he added: “Countries across the region must continue to strengthen measures aimed at prevention, detecting and responding to Zika virus transmission.”

The highest number of recorded microcephaly births thought to be caused by the virus have occurred in Brazil, with up to 1,600 cases reported since the start of the outbreak last year.

Other Zika-linked microcephaly births have been reported in Colombia and Puerto Rico.

Thailand has confirmed 349 cases of the Zika infection since January 2016, including 36 pregnant women, but authorities have refused to disclose any information regarding the location of the outbreaks.

The UK Foreign Office has advised pregnant women, or those trying to conceive, against all but essential travel to Thailand for several months.

On Thursday, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention issued travel notices for Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, East Timor, the Maldives, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Laos advising pregnant women to consider postponing their trips.

A CDC travel notice was already in place for Singapore, which has reported nearly 400 confirmed cases of Zika this year.