Philippines to step up Zika surveillance

A health worker carries out fumigation in the outskirts of Lima, Peru.
A health worker carries out fumigation in the outskirts of Lima, Peru.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - Philippine health and Red Cross officials have advised women who are pregnant or planning to have a child to avoid travelling to 29 countries affected by the Zika virus linked to thousands of birth defects in the Americas.

In a news conference on Tuesday (Feb 2), Health Secretary Janette Garin said the Department of Health would step up surveillance for cases of Zika.

"The most important thing now is mosquito control and keeping communities and environments clean," she said.

The Philippine Red Cross, meanwhile, advised the public to defer "unnecessary travel" to Zika-affected countries.

Bulletins released by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that the Zika spread in South-east Asia is being under-reported because the virus is difficult to detect.

Zika resembles a light case of the flu. It is often so mild that its symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medication. Patients seldom go to clinics, and doctors often associate Zika symptoms with other illnesses, usually dengue or chikungunya.

A 15-year-old boy in the central Philippine city of Cebu was found to have been infected with the Zika virus in May 2012. He fully recovered after taking acetaminophen.

A CDC bulletin said a strain of the virus may have been introduced in the Philippines before 2012, and that it may have remained undetected. But the health department maintains the Philippines is "Zika free".

Dr Garin said as a precaution, the government has ordered some 1,000 testing kits from CDC and designated six hospitals as testing sites.