Australian contracts Zika virus after trip to Vietnam

By , Nam PhuongMarch 24, 2016 | 02:52 am PT
The Australian government has confirmed that one of its citizens has contracted the Zika virus upon returning from Vietnam, which has put the Vietnamese health sector in a state of alert, said the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the announcement, the victim arrived in Vietnam on February 26 and returned to Australia on March 6. The suspected case showed symptoms identical to those linked to the Zika virus, including fever, rash, headache, conjunctivitis, muscular and joint pain, red eyes and nausea. While in Vietnam, the victim travelled to Ho Chi Minh City, the central highland province of Lam Dong, the central province of Khanh Hoa and the south-central province of Binh Thuan.

It has not been confirmed that this case of Zika was contracted in Vietnam, said Dr. Tran Dac Phu, head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine under the Health Ministry.

Nevertheless, Vietnam’s Health Ministry has sent a working team led by Deputy Minister Nguyen Thanh Long to Khanh Hoa and Binh Thuan. The team, in coordination with local authorities, will provide direct supervision and implement measures to prevent a potential outbreak of the virus.


Health officials have raise concerns over the fact that the Zika virus is associated with microcephaly, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development. Photo by Mario Tama.

Long also instructed the health sector to increase the level of emergency, and test individuals with Zika-like symptoms.

Most individuals infected with Zika virus experience mild or no symptoms. About 25 percent of infected people develop symptoms between two and 10 days after infection, said the WHO.

Local authorities are advised to promote communication campaigns so that people will use the mosquito repellent to fight against dengue and malaria outbreaks.

The Health Ministry has also instructed Pasteur institutes in Ho Chi Minh City and in the central city of Nha Trang to support health authorities in areas the Australian visited. The two institutes must step up taking samples of individuals who might be infected with the virus and prepare medicine and medical equipment to assist localities monitoring and dealing with a Zika outbreak.

Vietnam has contacted the WHO and Australian government to ask for more information about the case.

“The information will help us to determine whether or not the Zika virus is present in Vietnam. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika is likely to be between three and 12 days," Dr. Phu said.

The Health Ministry will continue to work closely with the WHO and Australian agencies to clarify the situation and carry out the necessary surveillance.

Vietnam has tested about 200 samples of medical waste from areas the victim visited, but no cases of infection have been reported so far.

No cases of Zika infected have been reported in Viet Nam so far, but the country is expanding surveillance as the global epidemic becomes more serious, the health official said.

The Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947. The most recent outbreak of the virus is in the Americas. The WHO announced that the Zika virus has so far been recorded in 59 countries and territories.

The virus is also thought to be present in a number of Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia following reports of foreigners returning from these countries having contracted the virus. However, the WHO is not recommending travel restrictions to these countries.

Most victims experience mild symptoms, while recovery is usually complete and fatalities are rare.

Health experts have observed an increase in babies born with microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome that has coincided with Zika infections. Two independent laboratory studies by Brazilian scientists and Johns Hopkins University, which looked into the impact of the virus on brain cells, have shown that the virus can attack and destroy brain cells so that the brain is unable to grow. This is an important link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, or small head syndrome.

However, it is worth noting that the laboratory results may not correctly reflect what could be happening in the human body. Therefore the WHO has yet to officially confirm the connection between Zika and microcephaly, indicating that it needs more scientific evidence to make a definitive conclusion.

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