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Viet Nam takes steps to address Zika virus risks

Update: February, 17/2016 - 09:26
Authority supervises body temperature of visitors at an airport. No cases of Zika fever have been reported in Viet Nam so far, but the country is expanding surveillance as the world epidemic situation becomes more serious. — VNA/VNS Photo

HA NOI (VNS) — No cases of Zika fever have been reported in Viet Nam so far, but the country is expanding surveillance as the world epidemic situation becomes more serious, a health official said.

At an urgent Ministry of Health meeting yesterday, Deputy Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said the virus had been reported in 44 countries, and the chance that the virus will hit Viet Nam is high.

Samples should be taken to test pregnant women and people returning from a region where the virus is active, Long said.

He also requested the health sector to strengthen supervision within the community and co-ordinate with relevant agencies to closely monitor visitors coming to Viet Nam.

The Zika virus is spreading across countries and territories in the Americas where Aedes mosquitoes live.

The World Health Organisation had issued a global emergency after a worldwide epidemic of the Zika virus was linked to a huge rise in babies being born with abnormally small heads.

But two independent teams of researchers from Brazil and Argentina have suggested pyriproxyfen – a pesticide used to kill mosquitos – may be the real cause of microcephaly.

They point out that in 2014 the government started adding pyriproxyfen to the drinking water supply in the area of Brazil where the majority of microcephaly cases have been reported.

According to the Environmental Management Department under the Ministry of Health, pyriproxyfen is being used in Viet Nam. Up to 9,000kg of Pyriproxyfen have been imported to the country since 2012, and the World Health Organisation advised that the chemical be used in clean water. However, the chemical has only been used to treat sewage, so people shouldn't worry about its health effects, Long said.

Deputy Long confirmed that if it detects any link between the chemical and microcephaly in babies, Viet Nam will stop using the chemical immediately.

At the meeting, Tony Mount, Director of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Viet Nam, said more investigation was needed to better understand the relationship between microcephaly in babies and the Zika virus or mosquito repellent.

The mosquito repellent had been used to fight dengue and malaria outbreaks in Brazil for a long time, he said.

Dr. Nguyen Van Kinh, Director of the Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases, called upon the Ministry of Health to direct the obstetric system to conduct early fetal ultrasounds in order to detect microcephaly, adding that it is difficult to intervene once children are born.

Long directed the Department of Women and Children's Health Protection to advise pregnant women to have ultrasounds every two months for sample tests and timely treatment in case of any abnormalities.

The Ministry of Health also advised child-bearing age woman to avoid travel to affected areas.

According to the Preventive Health Department, the Health Ministry has implemented a number of proactive measures to respond to this epidemic if it occurs, including checking the temperature of passengers arriving from international flights and preparing medicine and medical equipment to assist localities dealing with the disease.

According to WHO, the incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) of the Zika virus is unclear, but it is likely a period lasting a few days. The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections, such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for two to seven days.

Currently, there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for the virus. — VNS

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