Birth of a New Infection

From The Star Online

PETALING JAYA: The Aedes mosquitoes have brought about the dreaded dengue fever and now the Zika virus that is also being transmitted through Aedes is feared to cause babies born with deformed brains.

Concern over the Zika virus spread in the Americas has led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to send out an alert for the infection.

The Health Ministry revealed that none of the samples tested had shown any Zika virus infection.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said up till Nov 30, a total of 236 samples had been tested, with 222 samples tested at the National Public Health Laboratory (MKAK) in Hospital Sungai Buloh and 14 at the Institute for Medical Research (IMR).

“None of the samples had been found positive with the Zika virus,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Hisham said that samples that were diagnosed as negative for dengue antigen NS1 from suspected dengue patients would be tested for Zika virus.

The laboratories would monitor the presence of the Zika virus through surveillance carried out in several sentinel clinics and hospitals nationwide, he said, adding that this year, the WHO had reported Zika virus in several countries such as Brazil, Columbia, Chile and Paraguay.

The disease showed symptoms similar to dengue such as fever, muscle ache, joint pain, headache, pain behind eyes, conjunctivitis and rashes, he said.

He added that the increase in babies born with microcephaly or small brains has also been linked to the infection as reported in Brazil.

As of now, treatment available was only to relieve the symptoms, he said, adding that those with symptoms should seek treatment quickly for early detection.

Dr Hisham said that measures needed to prevent and control Zika virus were similar to the measures taken against the dengue virus, such as seeking and destroying breeding places.

WHO Collaborating Centre for Arbovirus Reference and Research director Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said the public should not be overly alarmed as the symptoms were usually mild for adults but the main concern was for pregnant mothers.

Dr Sazaly said that the centre was ready to diagnose Zika infection following the alert sent out by WHO.

“If doctors find that their patients are cleared of dengue and request for Zika virus tests, we are prepared to test it,” he said in a telephone interview.

He said that it was hard to tell the two infection symptoms apart but travel history was a good indication.

“Those who had travelled to Brazil and other countries affected by Zika virus must take precaution just as one would with dengue fever infection,” he said.

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