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Health ministry warns those going abroad to take Zika precautions

by September 2, 2016 General

The health ministry is warning travelers going to high-risk areas to stay alert after researchers said Friday that at least 2.6 billion people living in parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific are at risk of Zika infection.

Some of the most vulnerable countries include India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh, according to the studies, which were posted on the Lancet Infectious Disease journal by researchers from institutes including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and the University of Toronto.

Experts caution that the study could overestimate the number of people at risk because they don’t know whether Zika had already landed in some of these countries in the past and allowed people to develop immunity.

More than two-thirds of people infected with Zika never get sick, and symptoms are mild for those who do, so surveillance systems may have missed cases.

Although Zika was first identified in 1947, the virus wasn’t considered a major health threat until a major outbreak in Brazil last year revealed that Zika can lead to severe birth defects when pregnant women are infected.

In February, the World Health Organization declared the spread of Zika a global emergency, and epidemics have been sparked in at least 70 countries.

In Singapore, roughly 40 infected people were identified on Aug. 28. The figure had increased to 151 by Thursday.

As of Wednesday, no infections had been reported among the roughly 37,000 Japanese residing in Singapore.

The health ministry on Monday designated Singapore a Zika-endemic area and on Thursday issued a warning again to prefectural governments that they should continue informing travelers heading to such areas to be careful.

The ministry is advising people who are traveling to endemic areas to wear long sleeve shirts to protect to protect against mosquitoes.

Jun Niizuma, a health ministry official, also said, “Those who are pregnant should not travel to such countries.”

“The virus can be sexually transmitted, so we ask people to refrain from sexual contact or to wear a condom” for two weeks after returning from endemic areas, he added.

Airports are also using thermography to monitor the body temperatures of returning travelers.

In Japan, to date, 10 cases of Zika infection had been reported.

On top of Singapore, the Zika virus has been spreading in other Asian countries.

On Thursday, a Malaysian woman tested positive for the infection after returning from Singapore.

According to the Health Center of Thailand, where more than 4,000 Japanese corporations are located, Zika infection was first reported in 2012, with five cases on average being discovered in each of the following years. However, 97 infections have already been reported in the first half of this year.

According to the United States Centers for Infectious Diseases and Prevention (CDC), The most common symptoms of the Zika virus, with its incubation period of two to 12 days, are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. But newborns of infected mothers are at risk of microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby’s brain is smaller than normal.

There are no current drugs to prevent or treat Zika, but drugmaker Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. announced Thursday it is trying to develop a vaccine with funding coming from the U.S. government.