News / Health

    Southeast Asia Braces for Zika Virus

    A worker sprays insecticide for mosquitos in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 13, 2016. Tropical Southeast Asian countries said they were bracing for the Zika virus, with Malaysia saying it could "spread quickly" if introduced.
    A worker sprays insecticide for mosquitos in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 13, 2016. Tropical Southeast Asian countries said they were bracing for the Zika virus, with Malaysia saying it could "spread quickly" if introduced.

    The World Health Organization on Monday is convening a meeting in Geneva to determine whether a global health emergency should be declared for the Zika virus.

    WHO is responding in a more pro-active manner to the relatively minor mosquito-borne virus in contrast to its slow response to the lethal 2013 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, for which the U.N. agency faced heavy criticism.

    Zika, suspected of causing a surge of birth defects in South America, is “spreading explosively” in the Americas, according to the WHO.

    The U.N. agency also believes the disease has been more common in Southeast Asia than the smattering of cases reported in the region in the past several years.

    Rarely fatal

    Zika, usually mild and rarely fatal with symptoms often mistaken for other mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue and chikungunya, has “widespread distribution" across Thailand, according to an article last year in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. But Thailand has only reported one case this year.

    It is spread through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, responsible for dengue, yellow fever and other tropical diseases.

    Thailand has seen a sharp increase in dengue in recent years.

    A popular 37-year-old TV actor, Thrisadee “Por” Sahawong, died last month of complications related to dengue fever after more than two months in a coma, shining a fresh spotlight in the kingdom on the disease, which was first documented in the 1950s during epidemics in Thailand and the Philippines.

    The Zika virus, first detected in a rhesus monkey in Uganda in 1947, had been limited to rare cases in human populations in Africa and Asia until an unprecedented outbreak on an island in the southwestern Pacific in 2007.

    “It was something kind of unique, along with the fever and rash that we were starting to see, as well as patients having some kind of this typical rash around the earlobe,” said Dr. James Edilyong, the medical staff chief for the state of Yap in Micronesia. “That's when it kind of indicated to us that we need to more find about this kind of condition.”

    Contracted virus

    The general population on the island – which is home to little more than 10,000 people – was subsequently tested. It was discovered nearly three-fourths of those aged 3 and older had contracted the virus. But most did not realize it.

    “A lot of them were basically sub-clinical. They didn't feel the need to come to the hospital. Maybe some of them didn’t even feel any difference, probably just thinking it's just a flu or something – just feeling a little bit unwell,” Edilyong told VOA Monday.

    In late 2013, another large outbreak erupted in French Polynesia, with the first links to the virus causing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological illness with paralysis as its main feature.

    But the relatively obscure disease did not end up on the front pages globally until the latest outbreak emerged in Brazil – where several thousand cases have been reported since last year – of a suspected link to infected pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a fetal deformity that causes abnormally small heads.

    There were no such defects linked to Zika on Yap after the 2007 outbreak, but officials there, in view of what has emerged out of Brazil, are now examining birth records more closely, Edilyong told VOA.

    There has also been no link so far between Zika and microcephaly in Southeast Asia, according to the WHO's regional office here.

    WATCH: Related Zika virus video

    Global Health Experts Warn Zika Could Spread Beyond Americasi
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    January 30, 2016 2:51 PM
    To date, 25 countries have reported locally-transmitted cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has been linked to a medical condition causing severe birth defects. The World Health Organization has set a special meeting for Monday to determine whether to declare the virus a public health emergency. But experts say the global health community is preparing for the worst, even possibly an epidemic.

    Malaysian and Singaporean public health officials have warned of a high risk of contagion if the virus is introduced there.

    The Philippines health department is calling Zika a “real and present” risk amplified by weather conditions caused by the El Niño phenomenon that will likely lead to more ideal conditions for mosquitoes to breed.

    Governments in the Americas and the Caribbean, including Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, have warned women to delay conceiving until the Zika outbreak is brought under control.

    No treatment or vaccine is available, although a Canadian researcher has been quoted as saying one might be ready within this year. Medical experts, however, say it could take several years of testing a vaccine before it is deemed safe.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    February 01, 2016 4:56 AM
    "Zika, suspected of causing a surge of birth defects in South Africa, is “spreading explosively” in the Americas, according to the WHO." Typo ?
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    February 01, 2016 11:52 AM
    WHO stands for world health organization

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora