The Philippines has launched an action plan to combat the spread of the Zika virus, Philippine Health Secretary Janette Garin told reporters on Monday (Mar 14), playing down concerns about the mosquito-borne illness.
Although there is no vaccine to prevent Zika infections, Mr Garin said the Philippines was stepping up its efforts to fight the virus, including surveillance, clinical management, vector control, and health promotion.
Just a week ago, the Philippines discovered its first case in four years, after an American woman who visited the Philippines in January tested positive for the virus in the US.
The health secretary urged the public to take extra precautions when travelling to countries affected by the virus. Most infections in recent months have originated in South and Central America.
Any suspected case of Zika in the country must be reported within 24 hours to the Department of Health. So far, 827 cases have been reported but all have tested negative for Zika and other serious viruses.
“We are not only addressing Zika in the Philippines but also dengue and chikungunya,” said the health secretary, adding that climate change had contributed to more possible cases.
Zika is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito, the same type that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
The virus has been linked to a rapid rise in the number of children born with microcephaly to mothers infected during pregnancy, prompting WHO to declare the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders a health emergency on Feb 1.
But, Ms Garin said not all pregnant women infected by the Zika virus will give birth to babies with microcephaly.
Microcephaly is a condition where a baby is born with a small head or the head stops growing after birth, and according to Ms Garin, there are many other potential causes aside from Zika, such as HIV and herpes.
Since January 2007 to March 2015, 55 countries have reported transmission of the Zika virus, according to WHO.