On Friday the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC)
warned of the increasing spread in Thailand of Zika, which can cause
microcephaly in unborn children.
Thailand is combating the risk by misting and spraying
mosquito-infested areas, said Anuttarasakdi Ratchatatat,
epidemiologist at the health ministry's Bureau of Vector Borne
It has not changed or updated its Zika prevention plan since
Singapore, which has a more extensive prevention campaign, began
reporting a spike in cases from late August.
Twenty-two new cases were confirmed on Sunday in the upmarket
Sathorn area of Bangkok, part of the city's Central Business
District, including a pregnant woman who later gave birth with no
"It's concerning because I live just around the corner," said
Dietrich Neu, a Canadian who works in publishing.
"It's different in Canada; the government would be all over it.
There would be a center where people can get treated and leaflets
about what the symptoms are."
The health ministry on Monday urged Thais not to panic as it said
the virus was not deadly or contagious - though in fact it can be
passed on sexually - and ministry epidemiologist Anuttarasakdi added
that it did not want to deter tourists.
"The information on Zika is quite sensitive because if we say which
province has infections then attention will turn on that province,
and if that province is popular with tourists it will have an impact
on tourism," he said.
"We don't want people to be too alarmed."
Health authorities in Thailand are not treating Zika as seriously as
dengue, which is much more widespread in the country, said Assistant
Professor Watcharee Chokejindachai from the Faculty of Tropical
Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, because of a perception
that Zika is less dangerous.
"Dengue is perceived as more serious; it can lead to death. That's
why they pay more attention to dengue than Zika," Watcharee told
"Diagnosing Zika is also more expensive than dengue because it takes
time - up to eight hours - whereas with dengue we have a rapid test
which takes 15 minutes."
There have been more than 31,000 dengue cases in Thailand this year
to Aug. 19, including 25 fatalities, according to the International
Society for Infectious Diseases.
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Several countries in Southeast Asia have reported a rising number of
Zika cases, but Thailand has one of the highest number in the
region, with more than 100 confirmed since January.
A total of 30 pregnant Thai women with the virus are being
monitored, the health ministry said. Six have given birth with no
complications, so far.
A map showing countries with active local transmission of Zika from
the ECDPC updated on Friday shows Thailand with "increasing or
Singapore, where homes have been inspected and communities blanketed
with information leaflets, reported its first locally infected Zika
patient on Aug. 27, and the number of reported infections has since
swelled to more than 300.
People there risk fines if they have even a flower pot with old
water in it.
Samlee Pliangbangchang, Regional Director of the World Health
Organization's Southeast Asia Region from 2004 to 2014, said
Thailand should be more transparent in reporting the Zika threat to
the public and should look to Singapore as an example.
"The Ministry of Public Health don't want people to be afraid, so
they say they have it under control," Samlee told Reuters.
"The truth is we don't know the extent of the Zika spread in
Thailand," he added.
"Singapore has an open policy to inform the public about what is
going on so that the public can take precautions. Maybe we should do
(Additional reporting by Cod Satrusayang and Panarat Thempgumpanat;
Editing by Will Waterman)
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