Thailand hit with Zika travel warning

Thailand is well provisioned with mosquitoes. Source: Wikimedia

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has issued Thailand with its second-highest travel advisory in its three-tier alert system after the World Health Organisation listed the country as one of the nations to report indigenous Zika virus cases.

The body warned pregnant women to avoid visiting Thailand and advised visitors to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

The three alert levels are watch, alert and warning. After the mosquito-borne disease appeared in Brazil last year it has spread to through Central and South and the Caribbean.

The CDC said has issued alerts for 36 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia, while Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Gabon have been given the watch alert.

In Thailand, where just one Zika case has been reported this year, the likelihood of the virus spreading was low, officials said, partly because of better health care and because Thailand itself was relatively small.

“Thailand is a medium-sized country with a good public health system and easy-to-access medical facilities,” said Amnuay Gajeena, director-general of the Disease Control Department.

Thailand recorded its first Zika case in 2012 and has detected an average of five cases a year, Bangkok’s Public Health Ministry said.

Kriengsak Limkittikul of the Department of Tropical Medicine at Bangkok’s Mahidol University said there was insufficient data on Zika but it was “only a matter of time” before more infections were detected.

The British Foreign Office amended its travel advice to suggest people travelling to Thailand follow the advice of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), particularly pregnant women or those who are planning a pregnancy.

NaTHNaC said pregnant women should reconsider their plans to travel to Zika-infected countries due to the risk to their unborn babies. Although the virus is relatively harmless to adults, it can cause congenital defects in babies. Travel agent Thomas Cook said it would ask scheduled airlines to change pregnant customers’ flights if they no longer wished to travel to Thailand.

Around 80 per cent of infected adults showed no symptoms, while others could have fever, rashes, joint pain and conjunctivitis, the CDC said. The symptoms are similar to dengue fever but are much milder. Serious cases are rare.

Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus could give birth to babies with microcephaly, which reduces head size and limits brain development.

Several Zika cases were reported in Thailand. It is one of the few places outside the Americas and the Caribbean where the mosquito-born virus has been detected, although it has also spread to Cape Verde off Africa’s western coast and on several Pacific islands.

Zika has caused panic in Brazil where more than 200,000 troops have been deployed to eradicate mosquitoes.