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DH alerts travellers to risk of Zika virus infection

     The Department of Health (DH) today (January 18) drew the public's attention to the latest situation of the mosquito-borne Zika virus infection and appealed to travellers for vigilance and due consideration of health risks before travel.

     According to the latest report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO), autochthonous transmission of Zika virus was reported from epidemiological week 17 of 2015 to epidemiological week 2 of 2016 in the following countries and territories in the Americas Region: Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guyana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.

     "We have been monitoring Zika virus transmission overseas and noted reports of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies whose mothers were infected with Zika while pregnant and studies are being carried out to determine what effects Zika virus can have on foetuses. In view of the latest situation, as a precautionary measure, we advise pregnant women and those planning pregnancy to adopt necessary anti-mosquito precautions. We will issue letters to doctors and hospitals for heightened vigilance," a spokesman for the DH said.

     Pregnant women should consider deferring their trip to areas with past or current evidence of ongoing Zika virus transmission. Those who must travel to any of these areas should seek medical advice from their doctor before the trip, strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip, and consult and reveal their travel history to their doctor if symptoms develop after the trip.

     Women preparing for pregnancy should also consult their doctor before travelling to these areas, strictly follow anti-mosquito precautions during the trip, and report to their doctor if feeling unwell after the trip.

     "Locally, no human cases have been reported to the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the DH so far and the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch (PHLSB) is capable of detecting Zika virus. Although Zika virus infection is not a statutorily notifiable infectious disease under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap 599) now, we appeal to doctors to stay alert to the possibility of Zika in travellers returning from affected areas who present a clinically compatible picture not attributable to dengue fever or chikungunya fever. Laboratory testing for Zika virus infection is available at the PHLSB. They should contact the PHLSB for further information as necessary," the spokesman said.

     Zika is primarily transmitted to humans through bites from Aedes mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti, which is currently not found in Hong Kong, is considered the most important vector for Zika transmission to humans. Other Aedes mosquito species such as Aedes albopictus widely present locally are also considered as potential vectors. There is therefore a risk of secondary spread for imported infections in Hong Kong.

     Most Zika cases do not cause symptoms. About one in four people infected with Zika will develop mild symptoms including fever, rash, muscle pain, joint pain, headache, retro-orbital pain and conjunctivitis which last for a few days. The incubation period is typically between three and 12 days.

     Travellers who return from areas with ongoing Zika transmission and feel unwell should seek medical advice as soon as possible and provide travel details to their doctor.

     At present, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika. The public should protect themselves from mosquito bites and prevent their proliferation through the measures below:

1. Protect yourself against bites
* Wear loose, light-coloured long-sleeved tops and trousers; and
* Use DEET-containing insect repellent on exposed parts of the body and clothing;

2. Special notes when travelling abroad
(A) Before the trip
* Arrange travel health consultation with your doctor at least six weeks before the journey for risk assessment and advice on vector preventive measures;
(B) During the trip
* Rest in air-conditioned or well-screened rooms;
* If travelling in rural areas of countries where Zika or other vector-borne diseases have been reported, carry a portable bed net and apply permethrin (an insecticide) on it as well as to clothes. Permethrin should not be applied to skin; and
* Seek medical attention as early as possible if feeling unwell;
(C) After the trip
* Travellers who return from affected areas and feel unwell should seek medical advice as soon as possible, and provide travel details to their doctor;

3. Help prevent vector proliferation - prevent accumulation of stagnant water
* Change the water in vases once a week;
* Clear the water in the saucers under potted plants every week;
* Cover water containers tightly;
* Ensure air-conditioner drip trays are free of stagnant water; and
* Put all used cans and bottles into covered dustbins.

     More information is available in the pages below:

* The DH's latest Travel Health News (; and
* The CHP's review and risk assessment of Zika virus infection in the bi-weekly Communicable Diseases Watch (page 128,

Ends/Monday, January 18, 2016
Issued at HKT 20:33


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