HEALTH Secretary Janette Garin advised women not to get pregnant this year, amid fears that the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which continues to spread rapidly across Latin America, can cause abnormalities in their babies.
“Get pregnant next year, when we already have more knowledge about this virus,” Garin said in an interview on radio dzMM.
Much remains unknown about Zika and its potential link to 4,300 suspected cases of microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size, Garin said.
She also reminded the public to avoid going to countries hit by the virus, which may hide in organs protected by the immune system.
“Travelers who contracted the disease abroad may then transmit the virus sexually to their partners,” Garin said, noting that those infected by the virus might show no symptoms.
DoH consultant Dr. Willy Ong said the Health Department should start testing Filipino workers returning from Latin America for the Zika virus.
“We cannot say we are Zika-free if we have not tested our OFWs and our people for Zika,” he said.
“How many Filipnos have we tested for Zika? How many are negative?” Ong said.
“I have received dozens of messages from OFWs in Latin America, asking what they should do once they return to the country. They are concerned that they maybe carrying the Zika virus. They want to protect their family,” further said Ong.
In Honduras, he said, a Filipino worker was infected with the virus and was cared for by his relatives, who will be returning to the Philippines soon.
“I know that we only have 1,000 Zika kits at the moment. But if we had one positive Zika case, I am sure that WHO [World Health Organization] will immediately send us more Zika kits,” he said.
“Recently, China, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia have reported Zika cases. In Australia, a pregnant woman tested positive for Zika. If these countries are testing their people for Zika, why can’t we?” he added.
Ong noted that the WHO manual on crisis management states that the most important rule is to be completely honest and transparent—and to never downplay a threat.
“Because once the public loses trust in the government, then rumors will fly and it will be hard for the government to regain the public’s trust. I urge the DoH to start checking some barangays for Zika virus, especially those pregnant with symptoms of fever and rashes. I believe that Zika may already be here… We are just not testing our people yet,” Ong said.
So far, the country has had one confirmed case in Cebu in 2012.
Ong said he had gathered 14 cases of microcephaly in the Philippines, ages 1 and below. “It could be some other cause or it could be Zika,” he said.
Garin said the Health Department continues to study the virus and to find ways to prevent its entry into the country.
She said they have started training several hospitals on how to detect possible Zika cases using new machine testing kits.
Among these hospitals are the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Baguio General Hospital, Mindanao Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Hospital, San Lazaro Hospital and the Lung Center of the Philippines.
Symptoms of the Zika disease include rashes, fever for more that two days, conjunctivitis and muscle weakness.
Garin also stressed the importance of keeping the surroundings clean to stop the virus-carrying mosquitoes from breeding.
Zika, which has spread to 29 countries, was also linked to to neurological disease Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The World Health Organization estimates Zika could eventually affect as many as four million people. Colombia alone expects up to 600,000 cases this year.
A specialist in infectious diseases said it is important for arriving passengers to fill up the health declaration checklist upon their arrival in the Philippines.
“Declaring your travel history [in countries where emerging infectious diseases are spreading] is one way of protecting our loved ones,” said Dr. Arthur Dessie Roman, who is also a member of the Philippine College of Physicians and a fellow of Philippine Society of Microbiologist and Infectious Diseases.
A properly filled up health checklist declaration by travelers will help authorities manage and control the spread of possible diseases that they have contracted from their point of origin. With PNA