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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 29, 2016:

The Health Ministry is viewing the threat of the spread of the Zika virus seriously following the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) director-general Dr Margaret Chan’s warning of the rapid spread of the virus in the Americas.

Health deputy Director-General Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said this was because the risk of transmission of the virus in Malaysia was high because the country was home to the Aedes mosquito which is the carrier.

The mosquito population in the country, he pointed out, was very high based on examination of premises across the country.

“The disease has not yet spread in the country and Malaysians in general therefore have no immunity to the disease.

“Therefore, if the virus is brought in by infected Malaysians or foreign tourists, it can spread rapidly,” he said in a statement today.

Similar to dengue, Lokman said there were currently no specific vaccines and drugs to kill the virus.

Therefore, people who were infected would become a source of infection to others if bitten by Aedes mosquitoes, he explained.

There are reports that some of them, or an estimated 80% of those infected, do not show symptoms of infection, as they can be “healthy carriers” who spread the virus unwittingly.

“Although the disease causes only mild fever, rashes on the body, joint pains, and does not cause death, the Ministry is taking it seriously because it has been associated with the occurrence of “microcephaly”, the birth of babies with small heads, and the “Guillain-Barre” symptom which affects the nervous system.”

Microcephaly is a defect of the brain and head which affects the quality of life of infants and adults.

Lokman said general health screening at the country’s gateways was not practical because the symptoms were mild and difficult to detect.

However, the Ministry has recommended that all visitors from South America and Central America, and Malaysians returning from the continent, who had symptoms of fever and spots, to report themselves to the Health Quarantine Centres or Public Health Departments upon arrival in Malaysia.

Currently there are 22 countries where the Zika virus has been detected in the Latin American region, namely Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay , Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, US Virgin Islands, Venezuela and Samoa.

The ministry will also issue advisories to tourists and Malaysians on the steps to take if such symptoms occurred, apart from advising Malaysians from visiting the countries affected.

“Malaysians who travel to the affected countries should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites when they are outdoors during peak hours as mosquitoes are more active in the early morning and late afternoon.

“They must also wear clothes that cover the body and use mosquito repellent.”

The ministry will also issue “Health Alerts” to all government and private health facilities.

He said as many as 288 samples from the National Public Health Laboratory and the National Institute for Medical Research came back with negative results of the Zika virus. They were tested for cases which tested negative for dengue.

“However Malaysians should also pay serious attention by cooperating in destroying breeding grounds (of aedes mosquitoes) regularly,” he said.

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