The Ministry of Health issued a statement on Friday warning citizens to protect themselves from the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been present in Cambodia for years but has recently been linked to birth defects in South America.
Zika normally produces mild, flu-like symptoms. However, after an outbreak in Brazil last year coincided with a sharp increase in babies born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains—known as microcephaly —the virus began making international headlines.
After a Thai man was found to be infected with Zika in Taiwan last week, the Taiwan Center for Disease Control raised its risk level for travelers to five countries in the region, including Cambodia.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng said in Friday’s statement that while there was no need to panic, Cambodians should take steps to prevent mosquito bites and avoid creating possible mosquito breeding grounds. “Please wear long clothes, and sleep with a mosquito net,” he said.
“The Ministry of Health will continue to inform people of developments concerning this virus via the anti-infection disease department website at www.cdcmoh.gov.kh,” the statement said, also urging those who had recently traveled to countries in Africa, South America and Central America to immediately seek medical attention if they developed symptoms associated with Zika, including headaches, body aches, skin rashes and red eyes.
“At present, there is no vaccine or any specific treatment for this Zika virus,” it added.
Philippe Dussart, head of the virology unit at the Institut Pasteur in Phnom Penh, said in an email this week that a strain of Zika, also referred to as ZIKV, was detected in Cambodia in 2010, but that it was not considered a public health concern at the time.
“No new case has been recently detected,” he wrote. “At this stage, it seems very difficult to predict the future of Zika virus in Cambodia, in terms of virus circulation and in terms of clinical forms if ZIKV re-emerge.”
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)