|The centre worked with related units to check the temperature of passengers from international flights to Tan Son Nhat International Airport. — VNA/VNS Photo
HA NOI (VNS) — No cases of Zika fever have been reported in Viet Nam so far, but the Ministry of Health has said Zika might hit the country as it is spreading rapidly in Latin America.
The World Health Organisation on Monday declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international public health emergency due to its link to thousands of birth defects in Brazil, and the UN agency sought to build a global response to the threat.
The WHO said last week the virus was spreading explosively and could infect as many as four million people in the Americas.
At an urgent meeting of the Health Ministry, deputy minister Nguyen Thanh Long requested relevant agencies to strengthen precautionary measures against the spread of the virus.
The process of monitoring, detection, test, diagnosis, and treatment should be conducted carefully, he said.
He said that Aedes mosquitoes abound in Viet Nam and are the main carriers of dengue fever so there is high risk the virus may enter the country.
The clinical symptoms of Zika are usually mild and often similar to dengue, which is transmitted by the same mosquito, and it is difficult to confirm the infection, according to Truong Dinh Bac, deputy head of the Department of Preventive Medicine.
Zika has been linked to a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads. Having a small head can cause brain damage in newborns.
However, the virus is less dangerous to adults and most infected cases get well without treatment.
According to Bac, Zika virus can only be detected by blood test, but it is also very difficult to detect in the first phase of the disease.
The Zika virus spreads through mosquito bites and currently, there is no cure for the virus.
The Ministry has issued a health warning to all people who return home from any of the infected countries to monitor their health for 14 days. If any symptoms of fever surface, they should seek immediate emergency medical care.
Residents are also urged to take the necessary precautions and eliminate mosquito larva in their home and workplaces.
The Preventive Medicine Department also advises pregnant women to avoid travel in areas where Zika is active.
The ministry is working with the World Health Organisation to supervise the study of the disease.
Also on Monday, the International Health Quarantine Centre in HCM City implemented a number of proactive measures to respond to this epidemic if it occurs, director Nguyen Van Sau said.
The centre worked with related units to check the temperature of passengers from international flights to Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Checking body temperatures has remained since the spread of diseases such as Ebola and Mers-CoV which could enter the country through the international borders, he said.
The centre will also spray chemicals to kill mosquitoes at the airport to prevent the source of infection.
The World Health Organisation on Monday declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international public health emergency due to its link to thousands of birth defects in Brazil, as the UN agency sought to build a global response to the threat.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters that co-ordinated international action was needed to improve detection and expedite work on a vaccine and better diagnostics for the disease, but said curbs on travel or trade were not necessary.
Chan, whose agency was assailed as too slow in reacting to West Africa's Ebola epidemic that killed more than 10,000 people in the past two years, cited "first and foremost the big concern about microcephaly", the birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and improperly developed brains.
She noted that it was "strongly suspected but not yet scientifically proven" that Zika causes microcephaly.
The emergency designation, recommended by a committee of independent experts following criticism of a hesitant response to Zika so far, should help fast-track international action and research priorities.
The move lends official urgency to research funding and other steps to stem the spread of the virus.
The WHO said last week the Zika virus, transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, was "spreading explosively" and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas.
The Pan American Health Organisation says Zika has spread in 24 nations and territories in the Americas.
This marks the fourth time the WHO has declared a global health emergency since such procedures were put in place in 2007, with the others arising from influenza, Ebola and polio.
Brazil is due to host the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, and President Dilma Rousseff's chief of staff said on Monday there is no risk of cancelling the games due to Zika.
"We have to explain to those coming to Brazil, the athletes, that there is zero risk if you are not a pregnant women," Jaques Wagner told reporters in Brasilia.
The Zika virus has raised questions world-wide about whether pregnant women should avoid infected countries.
Chan said delaying travel was something pregnant women "can consider" but added that if they needed to travel they should take protective measures by covering up and using mosquito repellent.
Brazil has reported some 3,700 suspected cases of microcephaly.
Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said the epidemic was worse than believed because in 80 per cent of cases the infected people had no symptoms.
As the virus spreads from Brazil, other countries in the Americas are also likely to see cases of babies with Zika-linked birth defects, experts believe. — VNS/REUTERS