Southeast Asia, Bangladesh Now Screening Travelers for Zika

BenarNews staff
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160901-zika-620.jpg Passengers walk past a scanner to detect people suffering from fevers at the Sukarno Hatta airport in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta, Sept. 1, 2016.

Following a sudden spike of Zika cases in Singapore, countries in South and Southeast Asia are rushing to screen visitors and residents returning home to identify those infected with the virus.

Bangladesh, Indonesian and Malaysian nationals are among those who contracted the virus in Singapore, officials said. Thailand, meanwhile, has 13 active cases within its borders.

“We have set up thermal detectors at all air, land and sea ports to find people with fever – the first symptom of Zika infection,” Dr. M. Mushtauq Husain of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) under the Bangladesh health ministry, told BenarNews.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Singapore, with 115 confirmed Zika cases, and the British Virgin Islands to its list of countries and territories with active outbreaks, bringing the number to 58, Reuters reported.

Confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in Singapore soared from one to 115 over the last five days of August, according to a Reuters timeline.

How Zika spreads

Zika is spread mostly through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. The virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and can cause birth defects.

A mosquito can become a carrier after biting an infected person, then biting healthy people. An infected person can also pass Zika to his or her sex partner, according to the CDC.

Brazil, the host country for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, is one country hard hit by a Zika outbreak.

Singapore on Wednesday said it had identified 22 new Zika cases and its first case involving a pregnant woman, the Associated Press reported.

The affluent city-state is a hub for migrant workers from nearby nations.

“Yes, six Bangladeshis have been diagnosed with Zika,” Mahbub uz Zaman, Bangladesh High Commissioner to Singapore, told BenarNews. Officials are concerned that Bangladeshis living in Singapore, where 160,000 traveled for jobs, could expose family and friends to Zika.

“If any Zika virus-affected Bangladeshi returns home undetected, it may spread the infection,” Husain said.

Malaysia: Case linked to Singapore

In Malaysia, mosquito monitoring and other preventive activities are being intensified in all states, especially Johor and Selangor, S. Subramaniam, Malaysia’s minister of health, announced Thursday.

Tens of thousands of Malaysians pour into Singapore each day from immediately adjacent Johor state to work.

A 58-year-old woman tested positive for the virus following a three-day visit to Singapore in mid-August where her daughter was infected, Subramaniam said. The woman exhibited symptoms of a rash and sought medical attention on Wednesday.

The minister said information from the Singapore health ministry shows five Malaysians who live and work in Singapore have been infected.

Indonesia: One confirmed patient

Indonesia has also set up thermal scanners in ports of entry and has issued a travel advisory directed at pregnant women for Singapore and other countries facing potential Zika outbreaks.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir confirmed that an Indonesian is among those who have contracted the virus in Singapore.

“We received confirmation that a woman who is infected is now in a hospital in Singapore,” he said, without releasing details.

The government is giving health cards and pamphlets about the virus to every visitor from Singapore and Indonesians returning from that country, he said. About 200,000 Indonesians live in Singapore and more than 2.73 million Indonesian tourists visited Singapore last year.

The government is warning those who have symptoms including fever, skin rash, headaches and conjunctivitis within 14 days of arriving in Indonesia, to see a doctor and mention the visit to a country infected with Zika.

Thailand: ‘Red alert’

Thailand, for its part, has seen a worrisome number of cases within its own borders. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) has flagged the kingdom as a “red alert” country for “widespread transmission in the last three months.”

Ninety-seven Zika infections were reported in the first six months of 2016, but all those patients recovered, Dr. Amnuay Gajeena, the director-general of Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, told Benar News.

“At the moment, there are only 13 symptomatic cases in four provinces,” he said.

Reports of infections in other Southeast Asian countries have led Thai officials to monitor travelers from those countries more closely, Amnuay said.

“We have 68 checkpoints around the country and adopt strict measures. When we find suspicious infected travelers, we perform a blood check and urine test. We also use a hospital nearby as a quarantine center,” he said.

Tia Asmara in Jakarta, Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka, Haireez Azeem Azizi in Kuala Lumpur and Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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