PETALING JAYA: Pregnant women should not visit Latin American countries for the time being because of the threat of the Zika virus.
The Healthy Ministry issued an advisory against visiting 22 countries and territories: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, US Virgin Islands and Venezuela.
Also included in the list was the Pacific Ocean nation of Samoa.
Health deputy director-general (public health) Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said Central and South America visitors, as well as Malaysians who return from that region, should report to the health quarantine centre or nearby health offices should they develop symptoms of infection.
“An alert has been issued to all government and private health facilities.
“Malaysians travelling to other countries must also take precautionary measures, such as avoiding outdoor activities in the early morning and late evening when Aedes mosquitoes are lurking, wear clothes covering the body and use mosquito repellent,” he said in a statement.
Dr Lokman said so far, there were no Zika-related cases in Malaysia.
“Malaysians do not have immunity against the virus. Therefore, if the virus is brought into the country by affected citizens or visitors, it will spread fast.
“Just like dengue, there is no vaccine or specific medication that can kill the virus. An affected person can be the source of infection to others,” he said.
Dr Lokman noted that Malaysia had a high number of Aedes mosquitoes and it was also burdened with dengue cases.
Reports said that an estimated 80% did not show any symptoms of the disease and the “healthy carriers” ended up spreading the virus without their knowledge.
“Although the disease would only result in mild fever, body rashes and joints pain and does not cause death, we are looking at it seriously because it is associated with microcephaly (a neurological condition in which babies are born with an abnormally small brain and skull).
“It is also linked to the ‘Guillain-Barre’ syndrome,” he said, adding that microcephaly would result in permanent head and brain injuries and affect the baby’s quality of life.
Dr Lokman urged Malaysians to pay serious attention and cooperate with the authorities to destroy mosquito breeding grounds.
“Efforts by all parties must be enhanced to stop the spread of dengue and other health threats caused by mosquitoes,” he said.