After Singapore gets first Zika case, MOH says watching nation’s gateways

KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — The Ministry of Health said yesterday it has stepped up surveillance of all international entryways into the country after southern neighbour Singapore confirmed its first Zika case yesterday.

All visitors and returning citizens will be given a “health alert card” with a guide to help them identify Zika symptoms and what to do in cases of infection as part of efforts to nip an outbreak, ministry Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement this evening.

“As such, KKM has increased surveillance at all international entrances of foreign visitors and Malaysians returning from countries that have cases of the Zika virus,” he said, referring to the health ministry by its Malay abbreviation.

Dr Noor Hisham also advised everyone to practise safe sex, especially if they have been in a country with known cases of Zika infections.

He said the virus can pass through intercourse although symptoms of contagion may not show up immediately.

“As such, it is advisable for visitors returning from countries with reported cases of Zika to avoid from engaging in sexual intercourse for at least two weeks from their arrival date from those countries or to use a condom if engaging in sexual intercourse,” he said.

The ministry also called for increased efforts to destroy all mosquito breeding habitats as the virus, much like dengue, is spread through the Aedes mosquito.

“The Zika virus is spread with the same vector as the dengue fever namely the Aedes mosquito. As such, the public must carry out preventative measures especially in ensuring their surroundings are clean and that Aedes mosquito breeding habitats are destroyed weekly,” he said.

He added that community clean-up activities are especially important in states bordering other countries, naming Johor, Kelantan and Perak as examples.

He encouraged Malaysians to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants as well as by applying insect repellent regularly.

Anyone exhibiting symptoms of a fever, body aches, rashes and conjunctivitis within seven days of returning from a Zika-infected country should seek immediate medical treatment and inform their doctors of the country they just visited.

In a bid to prevent the spread of the virus, the ministry in February also sent out the “Zika Alert and Administrative orders for Monitoring and Managing the Zika virus” guide to all state health departments, organisations, hospitals and private labs

The ministry also noted that since June 2015, as many as 472 blood samples were tested for the Zika virus but none have come back positive.

However Dr Noor Hashim urged medical practitioners to stay vigilant in spotting the symptoms of the Zika virus and carry out frequent screenings and tests.

Singapore has confirmed a permanent resident developed fever and rash from May 10, three days after he returned from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he had stayed since March 27.

Apart from Singapore, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also reported the Philippines as having “sporadic transmission” of the Zika virus while Vietnam having “increasing or widespread transmission” of the virus, with most of the countries affected being in South America. – MMO