China confirms its first imported Zika case

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen inside Oxitec laboratory in Brazil, on Feb 2, 2016.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen inside Oxitec laboratory in Brazil, on Feb 2, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China confirmed its first imported case of Zika late on Tuesday as fears mount over the fast-spreading virus that has been linked to severe birth defects.

Few cases of the mosquito- borne illness have been reported in Asia, but the World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency to combat Zika as cases spread elsewhere.

Officials in China said a 34-year- old man was diagnosed with the virus after he returned from Venezuela on Jan 28 and reported a fever, headache and dizziness.

The man, from Ganxian county in the south-east province of Jiangxi, is now recovering, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission. He had travelled home via Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and has been quarantined and treated in a Ganxian hospital since Feb 6. The health commission said he posed an extremely low risk of spreading the virus.

The Zika virus is spread by mosquito bites. It has been linked to a surge in the number of children in Latin America born with microcephaly - abnormally small heads and brains.

So far, 26 countries have confirmed cases of the virus, and dozens of Europeans and North Americans returning from Zika-affected areas have also tested positive for the virus. Brazil has been hit hardest by the outbreak, with more than 20,000 cases including over 2,000 pregnant women.

Symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, joint pain, rash, conjunctivitis, headache, muscle pain and eye pain.

Infants infected with the virus may also develop eye abnormalities that threaten vision, researchers reported on Tuesday in the journal, Jama Ophthalmology. It described damage to the retina or optic nerve in 10 of 29 newborns at Roberto Santos General Hospital in Salvador, Brazil. Seven out of the 10 newborns had defects in both eyes, while three infants had damage in one eye. The most common problems were black speckled lesions in the back of the eye, large areas of tissue damage in the retina itself, or damage in the layer of blood vessels and tissue below the retina.

"Exactly how much these babies can see is unknown at this point," said Dr Lee Jampol, a professor of ophthalmology at Northwestern University, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "When we can see these lesions, that means there's damage."

"I would say a large number of these kids will be blind," said Dr Rubens Belfort Jr, the paper's senior author and a professor of ophthalmology at the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'China confirms its first imported Zika case'. Print Edition | Subscribe