Zika: Following the rapid spread of Zika virus, health ministry has beefed up vector borne disease control activities and surveillance across the country.

Dr Pandup Tshering, director of Department of Public Health, said that additional steps will depend on recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

People with fever and rash are asked to report to the nearest health centres where systems are already put in place.

There is no travel restriction to the affected countries but health officials advise people travelling to affected countries to take precautions.

“For now we are not so much at risk, but we need to be cautious,” Dr Pandup Tshering said.

Zika virus is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. It causes mild fever and rash. Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis.

There is no cure for Zika virus disease yet and treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms. The disease has similar clinical signs to dengue and may be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common.

The virus was first isolated from a rhesus monkey in Zika forest, Uganda in 1947, in mosquitoes in the same forest in 1948, and in humans in Nigeria in 1954.

The Zika virus outbreak in the Americas and the South Pacific continues to evolve.

“While a significant increase in the number of newborns presenting with a low head circumference seems established in the north-eastern states of Brazil, the magnitude of the increase has not been precisely estimated,” says regional update report on the virus.

According to the report South East Asia (SEA) region is at risk as Zika virus has been documented in South and Southeast Asia since 1978. There have been documented cases among travellers returning from Indonesia, Maldives and Thailand.

The principal vector for Zika virus is the Aedes mosquito, the same vector that transmits dengue and chikungunya, is present in all countries in the SEA region.

WHO has recommended the member states, including Bhutan, to increase awareness among health professionals, especially those who provide prenatal and newborn care and to strengthen laboratory capacity to confirm suspected Zika virus infections.

Travellers visiting outbreak-affected areas, particularly pregnant women, are advised to take protective measures to prevent mosquito bites all day round.

Kinga Dema