Dozens of Australians have been infected with Zika, health department says
Dozens of Australians have been infected with the Zika virus this year and there are concerns more will contract it while travelling in Asia where cases are proliferating.
On Friday, federal health authorities urged Australians to be careful while travelling to Zika affected areas, including Singapore where infections are soaring.
“For women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy it may be more appropriate to defer travel or defer pregnancy,” a spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Health said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s smartraveller website is urging travellers to protect themselves against mosquito bites in affected regions and to consider that sexual transmission is rare but possible.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said 44 Australians had tested positive for Zika this year. All of them were people who had recently travelled overseas.
At least one pregnant woman in Australia has tested positive for the virus. It is unclear how it has affected her and her baby’s health.
The World Health Organisation in February said Zika, and its possible link to birth defects, was a public health emergency of international concern. In Brazil, the virus may be linked to more than 3000 suspected cases of microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and potential developmental problems.
Singaporean authorities said a pregnant woman tested positive for the Zika virus on Wednesday, with the number of reported cases climbing to more than 100 since the first locally transmitted infection was identified earlier this week.
There were 24 new cases identified Wednesday, with a potential infection cluster in the east of the island, according to a joint statement by the Ministry of Health and National Environment Agency. The pregnant woman’s doctor is closely monitoring the health of the woman and her baby, the statement said.
Nine additional infections were also detected from testing of previous cases. That brings the total number of cases so far to 115, according to the Straits Times newspaper.
The recent spread in Singapore highlights the threat of infection across Asia. Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have reported cases that were either transmitted locally or brought into the country, according to Singapore authorities. Channel News Asia reported that a Malaysian woman who visited Singapore on August 19 had also tested positive to Zika.
The Zika virus has been documented in several Asian countries since it first emerged in 1951, including Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan, prior to the Brazilian outbreak, according to Raina MacIntyre, head of the school of public health and community medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
The Australian Health Department spokeswoman said staff at Australian ports were trying to prevent the incursion of exotic mosquitoes, including those that can carry the Zika virus, by disinfecting aircraft. Mosquitoes are also monitored at some ports.
“Of the mosquitoes found in Australia and tested for diseases, none have tested positive for Zika virus,” she said.
Mosquito researcher Cameron Webb, from the University of Sydney, said the risk of local spread was still very low. Australia does not have a large population of the yellow fever mosquito, which can carry the virus and is only found in central and far north Queensland, near Cairns and Townsville, he said.
“Australians shouldn’t be worried about a major outbreak in Australia but they should be concerned if they’re travelling overseas to areas where Zika is active,” Dr Webb said.
“If you take a location where suitable mosquitoes are present all you need is an infected traveller to bring the virus to the region.
“If they’re bitten by mosquitoes then there’s the possibility those mosquitoes will bite people who haven’t travelled and next thing you know you have an outbreak of disease.”
With Washington Post
The story Dozens of Australians have been infected with Zika, health department says first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.