WHO calls for stronger measures as Thailand confirms Zika-related microcephaly
As Thailand confirmed two cases of Zika-related birth defect microcephaly on Friday, the World Health Organisation has asked the countries in WHO South-East Asia region to take a series of preventive measures and steps for detecting and responding to the virus.
“Zika virus infection is a serious threat to the health and well-being of a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Countries across the Region must continue to strengthen measures aimed at preventing, detecting and responding to Zika virus transmission,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, said. Microcephaly and other neurological disorders can occur if a neonate has been exposed to Zika virus in utero.
“WHO also urges pregnant women as well as the rest of the general public to take precautions to limit mosquito-human contact, including wearing long-sleeved, light-coulored clothing; using mosquito repellant; sleeping under a bed net and fitting windows and doors with screens wherever possible," she added.
Pregnant women have been advised by the WHO to avoid travelling to Zika-infested areas and to ensure in safer sex or abstain from sex in their pregnancy in case their partners live in or return from areas with Zika virus outbreaks. WHO recommends safer sex or abstinence for a period of 6 months for men and women who are returning from areas of active transmission, whether they are trying to conceive or not.
For regions with active transmission of Zika, WHO recommends correct counselling and that women be offered a full range of contraceptive methods to enable informed choice regarding whether and when to become pregnant.
The presence of Zika virus in the WHO South-East Asia Region has been documented in the last few years in countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives and Bangladesh. The organisation declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern was declared in February. All countries now have the laboratory capacity to conduct Zika virus testing, as well as to assess and identify microcephaly cases.
WHO has urged householders and community groups to take measures to prevent the transmission of Zika and mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya by taking preventive measures such as not allowing water
to gather in gutters, pot plants or spare tyres and disposing household waste in sealed plastic bags.
The organisation does not recommend trade or travel restrictions with countries with Zika outbreaks but has asked travelers to be updated about potential risks and measures for reducing the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites and sexual transmission of Zika.
Dr Khetrapal also urged countries to emulate the example of Thailand in detecting and responding to the virus.
"Thai authorities have been active in detecting and responding to Zika virus. Thailand’s diligence underscores the commitment of health authorities to the health and wellbeing of the Thai public, and provides a positive example to be emulated," she said.