Thai officials play down rising Zika infections

Thailand is combating the risk by misting and spraying mosquito- infested areas, said a Health Ministry official. The ministry urged Thais not to panic as it said the virus was not deadly or contagious - though in fact it can be passed on sexually.
Thailand is combating the risk by misting and spraying mosquito-infested areas, said a Health Ministry official. The ministry urged Thais not to panic as it said the virus was not deadly or contagious - though in fact it can be passed on sexually.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGKOK • Health and city officials in Thailand have downplayed the risks from rising infections caused by the Zika virus, expressing concern that disclosing information would damage its tourism industry.

Last Friday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned of the increasing spread in Thailand of Zika, which can cause microcephaly in unborn children.

Thailand is combating the risk by misting and spraying mosquito- infested areas, said Dr Anuttarasakdi Ratchatatat, epidemiologist at the Health Ministry's Bureau of Vector Borne Disease.

It has not changed or updated its Zika prevention plan since Singapore began reporting a spike in cases from late last month.

Twenty-two new cases were confirmed on Sunday in the upmarket Sathorn area of Bangkok's CBD, including a pregnant woman who later gave birth with no complications.

The Health Ministry yesterday urged Thais not to panic as it said the virus was not deadly or contagious - though in fact it can be passed on sexually.

"The information on Zika is quite sensitive because if we say which province has infections, then attention will turn on that province, and if that province is popular with tourists it will have an impact on tourism," Dr Anuttarasakdi said. "We don't want people to be too alarmed."

Health authorities in Thailand are not treating Zika as seriously as dengue, which is much more widespread in the country, said Assistant Professor Watcharee Chokejindachai from the Faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok. "Dengue is perceived as more serious; it can lead to death," Prof Watcharee said.

A total of 30 pregnant Thai women with the virus are being monitored, the Health Ministry said. Six have given birth with no complications so far.

Dr Samlee Pliangbangchang, former South-east Asia director at the World Health Organisation, said Thailand should be more transparent in reporting the Zika threat to the public and should look to Singapore as an example.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'Thai officials play down rising Zika infections'. Print Edition | Subscribe