(Adds comment from health ministry adviser)
By Aukkarapon Niyomyat
BANGKOK, Sept 30 Thailand confirmed on Friday
that the Zika virus had caused two cases of microcephaly, a
condition that results in babies being born with small heads,
the first time it has been linked to Zika in Southeast Asia.
The confirmation came a day after U.S. health officials
recommended that pregnant women postpone nonessential travel to
11 Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, because of the
risk of mosquito-borne Zika.
"We have found two cases of small heads linked to Zika, the
first cases in Thailand," Prasert Thongcharoen, an adviser to
the Department of Disease Control, told reporters in Bangkok.
He declined to say where in Thailand the cases were found.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement the
cases were the first of Zika-linked microcephaly in Southeast
U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in
pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by
small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems
The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to
light last year in Brazil, which has confirmed more than 1,800
cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika
infections in the mothers.
Zika has spread extensively in Latin American and the
Caribbean over the past year or so, and more recently it has
been detected cropping up in Southeast Asia.
Thailand has confirmed 349 Zika cases since January,
including 33 pregnant women, and Singapore has recorded 393 Zika
cases, including 16 pregnant women.
Some health experts have accused Thai officials of playing
down the risk of Zika to protect its thriving tourist industry
but Prasert dismissed that.
"Thailand is not hiding anything and is ready to disclose
everything," he said, adding that other countries in Southeast
Asia might also have cases of Zika-linked microcephaly that they
have not disclosed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
said on Thursday people should consider postponing travel to
Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives,
Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), and Vietnam.
The CDC has already issued a "travel notice" for Singapore,
and said such a warning would be considered for the new
countries if the number of cases rose to the level of an
Thailand's confirmation of Zika-linked microcephaly comes
ahead of China's week-long "Golden Week" holiday with Thailand
expecting 220,000 Chinese visitors, up from 168,000 for the week
in 2015, Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak
Supasorn told Reuters.
The Thai health ministry said on Tuesday it was
investigating four suspected cases of Zika-linked microcephaly
in three babies and an unborn baby.
The three babies were born with small heads but it was not
clear from ultrasound results whether the 37-week unborn baby
had a head size smaller than normal.
The ministry ruled out a link between Zika and microcephaly
in two of the cases on Tuesday. But Prasert said tests had to be
carried out again on one of those cases.
There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika. An estimated 80
percent of people infected have no symptoms, making it difficult
for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.
There are also no specific tests to determine if a baby will
be born with microcephaly but ultrasound scans in the third
trimester of pregnancy can identify the problem, according to
Zika is commonly transmitted through mosquitoes but can also
be transmitted sexually.
Another health ministry adviser urged everyone to work to
stop the spread of mosquitoes but said people should not panic.
"Don't have sex with a Zika-infected person. If you don't
know if they are infected, then use a condom," the adviser,
Pornthep Siriwanarangsan, told reporters.
"We can't stop women from becoming pregnant ... but we
Microcephaly in babies can lead to respiratory problems
related to malformation of the brain, a very serious threat to
the lives of babies in the first year of their lives.
Children with microcephaly face lifelong difficulties,
including intellectual impairment.
Zika was first identified in Uganda in 1947 and was first
isolated in Asia in the 1960s. It was unknown in the Americas
(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Juarawee
Kittisilpa and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta
Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)