Ministry Tests for Zika Virus in Phnom Penh

The Ministry of Health on Thursday added testing for the mosquito-borne Zika virus—whose recent outbreak in Brazil has been linked to birth defects—to its biannual monitoring of malaria and dengue in Phnom Penh, officials said on Thursday.

Experts from the ministry on Thursday collected samples of mosquitos and larvae from fresh and stagnant water sources in Russei Keo, Chbar Ampov and Pur Senchey districts, said Huy Rekol, chief of the National Center for Parasitology and Entomology.

A health worker collects mosquitoes and larvae in Phnom Penh's Russei Keo district on Thursday as part of a biannual survey of malaria and dengue that has now been expanded to include the Zika virus. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A health worker collects mosquitoes and larvae in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Thursday as part of a biannual survey of malaria and dengue that has now been expanded to include the Zika virus.
(Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“We came to follow up our ongoing observations in these three locations because we want to determine which mosquitos pass on the viruses, and where they lay their eggs and live,” he explained.

And while the results of laboratory tests for the presence of malaria and dengue would be available soon, Mr. Rekol said, testing for Zika could take up to two weeks.

“We have no equipment to analyze the Zika virus, so we had to send it to the U.S.,” he said.

On Monday, the World Health Organization issued a statement classifying the current Zika outbreak in Brazil as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, citing a possible causal link between the virus and babies born with abnormally small heads.

Last week, the Health Ministry issued a statement urging citizens to avoid mosquito bites—and contracting Zika—by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, and sleeping under mosquito nets.

A health worker displays a mosquito captured in Phnom Penh's Russei Keo district on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A health worker displays a mosquito captured in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

However, Didier Fontenille, director of the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, dismissed this advice on Thursday, noting that Zika, like dengue, is transmitted by mosquitoes that bite during the day.

“The best way to avoid being bitten is to empty standing water—in cans, jars or old tires for example —and using repellent,” he said.

Mr. Fontenille said the risk of the new South American strain of Zika spreading to Southeast Asia was high.

“If it comes to Asia, it will very probably spread quickly, and while I don’t know if it will be dangerous, we have to be prepared for that.”

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