BANGKOK Oct 3 Thailand is considering testing
all pregnant women for Zika, the health ministry said on Monday,
following confirmation last week of its first known cases of
microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size, linked
to the Zika virus.
The two confirmed cases of microcephaly were the first in
Southeast Asia linked to Zika, which has been spreading in the
region after outbreaks in the Americas.
"The health minister has asked us to study whether this is
necessary and cost-effective," health ministry permanent
secretary Sophon Mekthon told Reuters, referring to free tests
for all pregnant women.
A Zika test costs about 2,000 baht ($58) but repeat tests
are often needed.
"At the moment, we check pregnant women in Zika-affected
areas only, not all pregnant women. So far, we've tested about
1,000 pregnant women."
Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause
microcephaly - a severe birth defect in which the head and brain
are undersized - as well as other brain abnormalities.
The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to
light last year in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than
1,800 cases of microcephaly.
Thailand has confirmed 392 Zika cases since January,
including 39 pregnant women, and Singapore has recorded 393 Zika
cases, including 16 pregnant women.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
has said people should consider postponing travel to Brunei,
Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives,
Philippines, Thailand, East Timor, and Vietnam.
The CDC has already issued a "travel notice" for Singapore.
Some health experts have accused tourism-dependent Thailand
of playing down the risks from the mosquito-borne infection but
health ministry officials have dismissed that, saying that other
countries in Southeast Asia might also have cases of Zika-linked
microcephaly that they have not disclosed.
Health authorities in the region say they are stepping up
monitoring, but there has been little testing and officials said
the real number of cases was bound to be higher than the
The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia have all
reported at least one confirmed case.
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.
In adults, Zika infections have also been linked to a rare
neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, as well as other
(Editing by Robert Birsel)