February 2, 2016 / 10:28 AM / 4 years ago

Thai health ministry says don't panic over Zika virus

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand should not worry about the Zika virus, its public health ministry said on Tuesday, just a day after the World Health Organization declared the virus an international emergency.

Matchboxes with an image of a mosquito and a slogan "Wanted Dead or Alive" lie in a pile awaiting distribution by health workers during a campaign against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases at the cemetery of Carabayllo on the outskirts of Lima, Peru February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Thailand is the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia, with an average of five cases a year since 2012, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Thailand has confirmed one case of the virus this year.

In addition, last month, Taiwan reported one case of Zika infection in a man from Thailand after he set off a temperature scanner at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international public health emergency due to its link to thousands of birth defects in Brazil.

“Thais should not worry. Thailand has no outbreak of this disease,” the Ministry of Public Health said in a statement.

“We have asked everyone to monitor and prepare measures to look after this disease ... Thais should not panic. Mostly if patients get this disease they recover,” the ministry said.

Neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore have said they are at high risk for the spread of Zika if the virus is imported.

The WHO said last month the rapid spread of Zika in the Americas was due to a lack of immunity among a population that had not been previously exposed to the virus.

Thailand’s public health ministry has said there was “no technical evidence” of in-built immunity to Zika in Thailand.

According to a June 2015 article in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene there have been “several cases reported in travellers returning from Thailand”.

Seven cases of Zika infection were found between 2012 to 2014 in Thai residents, it said.

“These endemic cases, combined with previous reports in travellers, provide evidence that Zika is widespread throughout Thailand,” the journal said.

Sill, the public health ministry said it was not overly concerned.

“I ask you to have confidence in Thailand’s surveillance system,” Amnuay Gajeena, director-general of the Disease Control Department, said in a statement.

The health ministry has asked members of the public to help eliminate mosquitos around their homes and in their communities and has advised those travelling back from Zika-affected areas to report any symptoms.

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel

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