A northern Thai man has been hospitalised in Taiwan after being confirmed as having the mosquito-borne Zika virus thought to be linked to brain-damaging birth defects in infants. Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare said that a Thai national coming there to work for the first time was stopped at Taoyuan International Airport on Jan 10 after setting off temperature scanners upon arrival in Taipei. The 24-year-old man who had been living in the North for the past three months is being held for observation at a local hospital. Liu Ting-ping, director of the Epidemic Intelligence Center at Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control, said the patient had a fever and a headache before boarding the plane in Bangkok and was detained at the airport’s fever-screening station. Two other northern Thai passengers travelling with the victim were cleared of both the Zika and dengue fever viruses.
The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to carry the dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses. First detected in Africa in 1947, it baffled health experts in the second half of 2015 by spreading quickly through Central and South America. Symptoms include fevers, mild headaches, skin rashes, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Taiwan has updated its travel advisory for several countries, putting Thailand, along with Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Maldives, on a “watch” list. Central and South America and the Caribbean remain at the “alert” level. Cases of the disease now have spread to Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Amnuay Gajeena, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, said on Thursday that Zika was first recorded in Thailand in 2012. Patients since have been reported across the country, with about five cases a year on average. His department discussed surveillance measures on Wednesday.
The main route of transmission is through mosquitoes, blood transfusion and transmission from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. There is no vaccine or specific cure for the disease, Dr Amnuay said. While lacking complete clinical evidence, doctors and researchers increasingly suspect Zika is connected to cases of microcephaly — a neurological disorder in which infants are born with smaller craniums and brains. The problem has been especially severe in Brazil, where suspected cases increased to 3,893 by Jan 16 from 3,530 cases 10 days earlier. Fifty infant deaths have been linked to the condition.