Health officials in Thailand, one of the main tourist destinations in Asia, say about 200 cases of Zika virus have been recorded in the country since the start of the current year.
“Since January, we have recorded about 200 cases and over the past three weeks, we have confirmed an average of 20 new cases per week,” Ministry of Public Health spokesman Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai said Tuesday, adding, “The number of cases is stable.”
The announcement was the first by health officials in Thailand about the spread of Zika. Experts warned Monday that lack of transparency on the issue could cost the tourist-friendly nation dearly. Officials had earlier expressed concern that disclosing information on Zika would damage the lucrative tourism industry in the country.
Suwannachai said, however, that the public should not panic about the virus, repeating earlier statements that measures have been adopted to protect the tourists.
“People shouldn't be scared to visit provinces affected by the Zika virus,” said the official.
Governments in Southeast Asian countries have become more cautious about Zika infections since officials in Singapore reported the first locally infected Zika patient in late August. The Island city-state has now recorded more than 300 cases while Malaysia and the Philippines have also spotted infections.
Researchers say the lineage of the virus in those regions is different than the one that has gripped Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Health Organization says the level of population immunity to the lineage of Zika in Asia remains unknown.
Zika, which was first identified in Uganda in 1947, can cause microcephaly if contracted by a pregnant woman. The disease can then cause abnormalities in the child’s brain. Other abnormalities and brain syndromes have also been reported, even in adults, as a result of the virus. Brazil has the highest number of microcephaly cases with 1,800.
Thailand's health ministry said there had been no recorded case of microcephaly and that about two dozen pregnant women and about six who had given birth with no complications were being monitored.