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Keep up the high state of alert vs Zika

We now have had eight officially confirmed Zika cases in the country. After the first five cases reported starting in 2012, a sixth case was announced by the Department of Health (DOH) two weeks ago – a 45-year-old woman in Iloilo City. A week later, two other persons living in the same household were found to have contracted the disease, although their symptom was only a mild skin rash.

We are truly fortunate that we have had only these few cases. Two of our neighbors in Southeast Asia – Singapore and Thailand – are now facing big numbers of Zika cases. The small city state of Singapore already has about 300 cases, triggering travel warnings in several countries. Singapore now fears it could lose at least $300 billion in business due to Zika fears.

As for Thailand, 16 of its 76 provinces have reported over 300 Zika cases since the first one was reported in August. In the Thai capital of Bangkok, 21 cases were reported in the Sathorn area where many of Thailand’s expatriates live. Malaysia has reported only one case in a southern city next to Singapore.

Zika is now in 62 countries, 42 of which reported their first cases only recently. It has spread widely in South and Central America and has reached the southern states of the United States. The latest report of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 1,657 infections, four of them in the Miami area, associated with travel to infected countries.

Zika fears reached a high point in the days leading to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last August, as Brazil is one of the most highly infected countries in South America. Many top athletes skipped participation in the Olympic Games over Zika fears. The World Health Organization issued advisories, calling on all athletes and visitors to avoid many open areas, especially the poorer sections of Rio, and stay, as much as possible, in air-conditioned quarters.

The reason is that the Zika virus is spread mostly through the bite of the Aedes aeypti mosquito, the same kind that spreads dengue, which is common in the Philippines. Zika has also been found to have been spread through sexual contact.

Most Zika cases have only mild symptoms of fever, muscle and joint pains, and rashes. But some cases have led to microencephaly and this is what causes the fear associated with Zika. Babies born with microencephaly have small heads and suffer from brain damage.

In the face of the thousands of cases that have come up, mostly in Latin America and now in the US, and the hundreds of cases reported in our neighbors Singapore and Thailand, we have reason to be thankful that we have had only eight Zika cases in the Philippines so far. For this, the Department of Health and local governments must be lauded for their high level of alert against the possible entry and spread of Zika, including fumigation operations to keep the mosquito population down. The danger continues – it has even worsened in some nearby countries – and we must, therefore, maintain this high state of alert.