A new enemy called Zika: The Jakarta Post

A worker sprays insecticide for mosquitos at a village in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan 13, 2016.
A worker sprays insecticide for mosquitos at a village in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan 13, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Feb 03, The Jakarta Post warns of the possibility of a Zika epidemic, with the rainy season already underway.

The world is gearing up for a fight against the Zika virus, as evinced in the World Health Organisation's (WHO) call for an emergency meeting on Monday (Feb 2) to find ways to eradicate the disease.

Now is the time for Indonesia, in particular the Health Ministry, to take precautions, no matter how insignificant the number of infection cases discovered here.

There are two major reasons why we have to take the global concern seriously.

First, the country has a history of Zika infections dating back to 1981, when an Australian was diagnosed with the virus after traveling to Indonesia.

Second, the virus is transmitted by the Aedes aeqypti mosquito known to cause dengue and chikungunya.

The last two diseases normally break out during the rainy season, which is under way now; as such, we cannot rule out the possibility of a Zika epidemic.

In its report, the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology warns that the virus has been spreading for some time.

A Zika infection was found among 103 dengue specimens that the institute took during an outbreak in Jambi between December 2014 and April 2015.

It is no exaggeration to state that the Zika virus presents a clear and present danger, with some health experts saying it could be a bigger threat to global health than the Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,000 people in Africa.

Zika viruses are not commonly fatal, but if contracted by pregnant women, it can generate a birth defect called microcephaly, which sees babies born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.

A surge in microcephaly has been recorded in Brazil, thousands of miles from here.

But as a tropical country, Indonesia too is vulnerable.

Depending on its severity, microcephaly can cause developmental delays, difficulties with coordination and balance and mental retardation.

It is imperative to prevent the Zika virus from spreading sooner, not later, given the potentially grave impact of the disease on future generations.

The bad news is that there is no medicine, at least not yet, that can cure Zika. But there is good news too - we are familiar with how to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and have a standard operating procedure in place to keep the virus from spreading.

The most effective way to prevent the mosquito from breeding is emptying still water from old tires, trash cans, flower pots and so on.

It is also time to fumigate, which aims to kill adult mosquitoes that may carry the virus.

As always, the problem lies with consistency. As a society, we have a tendency not to act until a disease takes a life, and quickly return to old habits when the furore dies down.

It is the responsibility of the government and the public to pre-empt the Zika virus before it strikes, regardless of whether the WHO declares the virus a global health crisis, as it did when the swine flu virus struck in early 2009.

* The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.