New Zika case found in Malaysia after lull

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A bunting warning on Zika disease is seen at Hospital Sungai Buloh. The Health Ministry has confirmed that a man in Perak has been infected with the disease. THE STAR/ANN

Malaysia reported its first case of the Zika virus in two years after a man in the peninsula’s northern state of Perak was found to have been infected, Malaysian health authorities said.

The viral disease is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. Previously the most recent case in Malaysia was reported in 2016, with eight people found to be infected.

Ministry of Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said the ministry’s disease control division was alerted by the Perak Health Department on October 12 regarding a single suspected Zika case.

“A test conducted by the Institute of Medical Research the next day found the result to be positive,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

The patient is a 30-year-old and was hospitalised on September 27 after he showed symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea. Two days later he was transferred to the intensive care unit. The patient is still being warded and is reported to be in stable condition.

Hisham said the latest case brought the total number of recorded cases in Malaysia to nine, with eight of them recorded in 2016.

“In 2017 and 2018, 3,178 blood samples and 15 urine samples were taken from patients who had the symptoms. The results were negative,” he said.

Zika is spread by Aedes, the same mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya, with common symptoms including fever, rash, joint and muscle pain and conjunctivitis.

Babies of Zika-infected mothers risk being born with microcephaly – a condition in which the brain does not develop properly. This leads to the baby’s head being noticeably smaller than normal.

A Zika epidemic in Brazil in 2015 saw over 2,000 cases of microcephaly suspected to be linked to the virus, resulting in the World Health Organisation declaring the situation as a public health emergency of international concern.

An infected pregnant woman in Johor Baru state was fortunate to give birth to a healthy baby girl in 2016.

Hisham said the public should undertake preventive measures including cleaning their surroundings and destroying mosquito breeding sites.

“It is also advisable to refrain from visiting countries that have Zika cases,” he said, adding that those who fall ill after returning from countries with such cases should seek medical attention.

He also said that the number of Malaysian dengue cases was very high, with 104,745 cases and 152 deaths as at October 12. There is currently no vaccine for Zika, and chikungunya, while more clinical trials and research are needed to develop a highly effective dengue vaccine.

“Destroying Aedes breeding sites will prevent not only dengue, but also Zika and chikungunya,” he said.