DOH advice to travelers: Take extra precautions against Zika virus infection

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) called on Filipino travelers on Wednesday to take extra precautions while staying in Zika-affected countries wherein there is an active local transmission.

The Health agency, at the same time, advised pregnant women to avoid traveling to Singapore and other neighboring countries where cases of Zika are reportedly on the rise.

“It is very risky for pregnant women to get infected with the Zika virus,” said DOH Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial.

She said Zika virus infection has been linked to birth of babies with severe brain and other neurological defects, including microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a rare condition wherein a baby is born with a small head.

Secretary Ubial said that because Zika virus is also sexually-transmitted, women and their partners and others who plan for pregnancy should observe safe sex precautions or use condoms to avoid infection.

She also said that they continue to have close coordination with the Bureau of Quarantine for continuing screening of arriving passengers in airports and seaports for signs of fever.

“These passengers are reminded to fill out a health declaration checklist upon arrival and to report or visit any government health facility if they become ill with unexplained fever within seven days from arrival,” Dr. Ubial said.

Another way to acquire Zika infection is through bites from infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

These mosquitoes are the same type of mosquito that spread dengue and chikungunya. These particular mosquitoes are existing in the country.

Signs and symptoms of Zika usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Common symptoms include fever, skin rash, joint pains, and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild.

Not everyone who gets infected display symptoms — meaning someone could have been infected and become a carrier without knowing it.

The danger with this is if a male carrier will have sexual contact and transmit the infection to the partner who, once becoming pregnant, there is a probability of giving birth to a baby with birth defects.

“That is why it is important to avoid mosquito bites. Hence, it is very important to clean the surroundings in order to prevent the multiplication of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that serve as vectors of the said virus,” the Health Chief explained.

In line with this, she again issued the call for the conduct of the “4S” campaign.

The 4S means “Search and destroy mosquito breeding places; use Self-protection measures; Seek early consultation for fever lasting more than two days, and Say no to indiscriminate fogging.”

Dr. Ubial said the first step of prevention can start within the home itself.

“Let us instill cleanliness in our surroundings and make it a practice in our communities. Together, let us attain ‘all for health towards health for all’ and eliminate breeding sites of mosquitoes and protect our family and community from any illnesses that they may bring. Be a good citizen; when you avoid mosquito bites, you avoid spreading the Zika virus to your family and the community,” she said.

Meanwhile, the DOH is reminding the public that its Hotlines are established 24/7 to entertain calls from the citizens and foreign nationals residing in the Philippines who may need assistance.

These numbers are 711-1001 and 711-1002.

Press reports had said that the number of confirmed cases of Zika virus in Singapore rose to 82 on Tuesday, with some of the latest infections detected beyond the area of the initial outbreak.>p>The mosquito-borne Zika virus was detected in Brazil last year and has since spread across the Americas. It poses a risk to pregnant women as it can cause severe birth defects.

It has been linked in Brazil to more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect where babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains. Leilani Junio/PNA/