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Thailand Reports First Cases of Zika-Linked Microcephaly in Southeast Asia

Thailand recently reported Southeast Asia's first confirmed cases of microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head, which are linked to mosquito-borne Zika, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to warn pregnant women against travel to the region.

Last Friday, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian nation to confirm the presence of Zika-linked microcephaly cases, according to Reuters.

"We have found two cases of small heads linked to Zika, the first cases in Thailand," an adviser to the Department of Disease Control, Prasert Thongcharoen, shared with the news source in Bangkok. He refused to disclose the exact location of the patients but confirmed that they were not based in Bangkok.

Some health experts have accused the local government of downplaying the severity of the situation to minimize impact on its tourism industry. Prasert, however, denied the claim: "Thailand is not hiding anything and is ready to disclose everything," he said, noting that other countries in the region might also have similar cases that remain undisclosed.

Thailand’s announcement came just a day before officials from the American-based CDC issued a warning against travel to Southeast Asia, advising pregnant women to delay non-essential trips to 11 countries in the region due to the risk of infection, according to the Washington Post.

The list includes Vietnam along with Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, the Philippines, Thailand and East Timor.

"The level of risk for Zika virus infection in these countries is unknown, but it is likely lower (but not zero) than in areas where Zika is newly introduced and spreading widely," the agency told the news source.

Southeast Asia has recently emerged as a new epicenter of Zika, as Singapore has reported 393 cases, including 16 pregnant women, in a short period of time, while Thailand has reported 349 cases since January, including 33 pregnant women.

Things are not looking great for Vietnam either, as last week a 51-year-old Taiwanese man contracted the disease after a visit to Saigon and Bac Lieu province between September 10 and September 23, reports the Taipei Times.

He experienced a fever, coughing, sore throat, conjunctivitis and joint pain after arriving home and was admitted to a hospital on September 28 after the symptoms did not subside. The hospital confirmed the infection after a Zika screening.

So far, Vietnam has only officially acknowledged three cases of Zika infection: two last April in Saigon and Nha Trang; and one last July in Yen Bai province. However, there have been a few other instances where tourists from Australia, Israel and South Korea reported symptoms of the illness right after traveling to the country.

[Photo via ABC]

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