Officials urge calm as Zika cases surge to 200 in Thailand

Thailand’s health officials had earlier expressed concern that disclosing information on Zika would damage the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A city worker fumigates the area to control the spread of mosquitoes at a university in Bangkok, Thailand, September 13, 2016.

Thailand has recorded about 200 cases of Zika since January, the health ministry confirmed on Tuesday, days after experts called on the country to be more transparent in reporting the threat of the virus to the public.

It was the first time Thailand's health ministry has confirmed the number of Zika cases this year.

"Since January, we have recorded about 200 cases and over the past three weeks, we have confirmed an average of 20 new cases per week," Thailand's Ministry of Public Health spokesman Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters.

Earlier, the health officials played down risks from rising infections of the mosquito-borne virus citing concern that disclosing information on Zika, which is linked to serious birth defects, would damage the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

"The number of cases is stable," Suwannachai said, without giving further details.

Suwannachai urged the public not to panic and reiterated a message aimed at reassuring tourists.

"People shouldn't be scared to visit provinces affected by the Zika virus," he said.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly - a severe birth defect in which the head and brain of the baby are undersized - as well as other brain abnormalities.

Photo of a child affected by microcephaly. Source: Reuters

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last year in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly.

Thailand has found no cases of microcephaly linked to Zika and it is monitoring about two dozen pregnant woman and about six who have given birth with no complications, the health ministry said.

Island city-state Singapore reported its first locally infected Zika patient on August 27 and since then, the number of reported infections has soared to more than 300.

Malaysia and the Philippines have also reported cases.

The virus, which is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, has been circulating in Asia for years.

The lineage of the virus circulating in Asia is different to the one in the Americas, researchers say. The level of population immunity to the lineage of Zika in Asia remains unknown, according to the World Health Organization.

In adults, Zika infections have also been linked to a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, as well as other neurological disorders.

The virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947.


TRTWorld, Reuters