First case of Zika virus in Philippines since 2012

Mothers and their newborn babies at the Fabella hospital in Manila, Philippines on Feb 16, 2016.
Mothers and their newborn babies at the Fabella hospital in Manila, Philippines on Feb 16, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Philippines has reported its first case of the mosquito-borne Zika virus - which has been tentatively linked to thousands of birth defects in Latin America - since 2012.

Citing a report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Secretary Janette Garin told reporters yesterday an American tested positive for Zika after visiting the Philippines for four weeks in January.

"Currently, we are coordinating with the CDC for the profile of the patient, including information on places she visited in the Philippines," Dr Garin said.

The main worry is over the virus' possible link to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and, in the vast majority of cases, damaged brains.

The last confirmed case of Zika in the Philippines was in May 2012, involving a 15-year-old male in Cebu city, 572km south of Manila.

The patient was first thought to have contracted dengue or chikungunya. He recovered after three weeks, taking only acetaminophen.

A CDC bulletin earlier said a strain of the virus might have been introduced in the Philippines before 2012, and that it probably remained undetected.

Zika, dengue and chikungunya share the same carrier: the Aedes aegypti mosquito. CDC bulletins showed Zika infections in the Philippines and Indonesia were detected only after targeted surveillance following outbreaks of dengue or chikungunya, or during long-term studies over specific areas.

Dr Garin said there was no need for measures beyond what the Health Ministry has in place so far. "We reiterate that cleanliness is still the key against mosquito-borne diseases. The public is reminded to be vigilant in eliminating mosquito-breeding places."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline 'First case of Zika virus in Philippines since 2012'. Subscribe