PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's health ministry has cautioned that the country is vulnerable to the spread of the Zika virus.
Deputy Health Director Datuk Dr Lokman Halim Sulaiman said in a statement on Friday (Jan 29) that the Ministry was monitoring the spread of the virus and believed that the disease could spread to Malaysia because of the high presence of Aedes mosquitoes in the country.
He said that based on inspections and the high number of dengue cases around the country suggest that the density of Aedes mosquitoes was still high.
Dr Lokman added that the risks brought by the disease were also high as Malaysians had yet to develop an immunity to the virus, making it likely that the disease could spread very quickly among Malaysians.
Earlier Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it would convene a special emergency meeting on Feb 1 to deal with the Zika virus which was "spreading explosively".
Dr Lokman stressed that although the virus only caused slight fever, rashes on the body and joint pains, the Ministry viewed the matter seriously because the virus had been associated with microcephaly, a birth defect where infants are born with underdeveloped heads.
He also said that it was impractical and difficult to stop the spread of the virus to Malaysia due to its mild symptoms, difficulty in tracing infected people and also because there was also no quick "point of care test" available.
Dr Lokman urged all visitors - especially those from South and Central America and Malaysians returning from infected areas - who exhibit fever and spots to reports themselves to the Quarantine Health Centre or the nearest Health Department as soon as they arrive in Malaysia.
He also advised pregnant women to refrain from visiting infected countries and said that a health alert would be issued to all Government and private health facilities.
There are currently 22 countries that have reported incidences of the Zika virus, mainly located in South America and even in some developed nations like the United States.
Earlier in the week, Taiwan's Health Ministry said that a 24-year-old man was suffering from the disease, probably contracted when he was in northern Thailand.
There is currently no vaccine available for the virus, and only the symptoms of the virus can be treated.
Although the virus has not been associated with deaths in adults, it has been linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil.
According to the WHO, it could infect as many as four million people in the Americas.