Health Ministry: New dengue strain not linked to Zika

Gabriela Alves bathes her four-month-old daughter Ana Sophia, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil. The Health Ministry says microcephaly cases in Malaysia are not linked to the Zika virus. — Reuters pic
Gabriela Alves bathes her four-month-old daughter Ana Sophia, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Olinda, Brazil. The Health Ministry says microcephaly cases in Malaysia are not linked to the Zika virus. — Reuters pic

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PETALING JAYA, March 7 — The Health Ministry has confirmed the new strain of dengue that was revealed mid-last year had no links to the Zika virus. 

As such, the ministry’s Vector Borne Disease Sector (Disease Control Division) head Dr Rose Nani Mudin said microcephaly cases in the country were not due to Zika.

“The causes of microcephaly in those cases have been determined and none of them are linked to Zika,” she said, adding that there were about 50 cases of microcephaly reported in Malaysia annually.

In June, the ministry was baffled over the shift in dengue patterns as more dengue cases were reported nationwide.

Observations by the ministry during the first six months of last year saw dengue patients suffering from symptoms not usually associated with dengue, as revealed by the ministry’s deputy director-general (medical) Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran. The symptoms were severe liver failure and brain infection while some developed irregular heart rate. In some cases, the patients’ organs failed.

Dr Rose said six per cent of the 336 dengue deaths last year were mostly caused by encephalitis or brain haemorrhage.

She added as symptoms for dengue and Zika were similar, tests to rule out dengue were usually done first as the virus is fatal.

“If a person comes with fever, body pain and severe headache or complications such as bleeding, we will check them for dengue. If it is negative, only then the patient will be screened for Zika,” she said.

“There has been no evidence to suggest misdiagnosis of Zika or the virus in the country.”

Meanwhile, an American woman was infected with the Zika virus while visiting the Philippines, health department officials said on Saturday, the first case detected in the country for several years.

Health Secretary Janette Garin said the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) had informed her that a US resident, who stayed in the Philippines for four weeks in January, had apparently developed symptoms in her last week before returning to the US.

“We were informed that shortly after returning to the US, an evidence of Zika virus infection was detected from the patient,” Garin told AFP.

“We are coordinating with US-CDC for the profile of the patient, including information on places she visited in the Philippines,” Garin said without giving details of the patient.

Health department officials said they still had no clue how the American was infected while in the Philippines.

The only previous known case of Zika in the country was a 15-year-old boy infected in 2012. He recovered after three weeks.

The mosquito-borne disease is usually not life-threatening but has been linked to a rise in birth defects in other countries, where hundreds of babies have been born with unusually small heads in recent years.

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