Zika virus

No travel warning for Zika-hit Malaysia yet, Hong Kong health minister says

Situation in country to be monitored after amber alert issued for Singapore

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 5:05pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 8:01pm

Hong Kong will monitor the Zika virus situation in Malaysia, which recorded its first locally transmitted case on Saturday, but there are no plans yet to issue a travel warning, health minister Dr Ko Wing-man says.

According to Malaysia’s health ministry, the patient, a 61-year-old man in Sabah, died from heart disease complications on the same day, and not from the mosquito-borne virus.

It is the second case of Zika virus infection in Malaysia, which on Thursday confirmed its first imported case in a 58-year-old woman who had visited Singapore.

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The mosquito-borne virus can cause microcephaly, a serious birth defect, manifesting in an underdeveloped brain and small head for babies. Symptoms of infection include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, and muscle and joint pain.

On Friday, Hong Kong authorities issued an amber travel alert for Singapore over its Zika virus crisis. An amber travel alert – the lowest in a three-tier system issued by the Security Bureau – means there are signs of a threat and that travellers should monitor the situation and exercise caution.

Singapore is the only destination for which Hong Kong has issued a travel warning for Zika so far. The total confirmed locally transmitted cases of the virus for the island nation stood at 242 as of Saturday.

On why other countries or regions affected by Zika were spared the same response, Ko said on Saturday authorities issued the alert for Singapore because people from the two cities had frequent dealings with each other.

Ko said Hong Kong’s response level would depend on the situation – the closeness of contacts with Hong Kong and the speed at which the outbreak appeared.

He reiterated the alert issued by Hong Kong would be removed if the situation in Singapore stabilised.

Separately, Dr Ho Pak-leung, president of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection, said on a radio programme on Sunday that the possibility of locally transmitted Zika cases cannot be ruled out in Hong Kong. But the risk of a serious outbreak is low, he added.

The doctor also said Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines would be more badly affected than Singapore if outbreaks happened in those countries.

He pointed out that the figures for dengue fever, which is spread by the Aedes mosquito – the same species responsible for Zika – are a lot higher in these three countries than Singapore.

Ho advised travellers intending to visit places with Zika cases to use insect repellents with 20 to 30 per cent of Deet, reapplying them every four to five hours.

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Repellents should be applied to every inch of exposed skin, avoiding the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and areas with wounds or skin problems.

When not in a mosquito-prone area, Ho said users should wash off the repellents as having them on the skin for a long time might cause irritation.

He also dispelled the misconception that mosquitoes are not active in autumn.

In fact, he said the peak period for mosquito breeding in Southeast Asia is September, and temperatures have to dip below 10 degrees Celsius for the insects to become less active.

“While the breeding will slow down with the lower temperatures, the spread of Zika virus can still occur,” he warned.