Zika-Linked Birth Defect Found in Thailand

     (CN) – Officials in Thailand have confirmed that two cases of babies born with microcephaly were caused by the Zika virus, the first such cases in Southeast Asia.
     The nation’s health ministry said Friday that tests remain inconclusive as to whether a third infant’s condition was also connected to the mosquito-borne virus.
     “Two of the three infants (tested) had microcephaly due to the Zika virus,” Wicharn Pawan, a disease control official, told AFP news agency.
     While Zika generally causes mild symptoms in most adults, including fever, sore eyes and a rash, fetuses face greater risk due to the link between the virus and several congenital disorders.
     Microcephaly, which has the strongest body of scientific evidence of a direct connection to Zika, leads to babies being born with abnormally small heads and potential brain damage. Stillbirths and miscarriages have also been associated with the disorder.
     The World Health Organization said this week that any confirmed cases would be the first identified in Southeast Asia.
     There is no cure for Zika, which has infected more than 1.5 million people in nearly 70 nations since 2015, according to the WHO.
     While the virus was already present in Southeast Asia, the number of cases has increased in recent months.
     Thailand’s health ministry said it’s monitoring 36 pregnant women infected with Zika, three of whom recently gave birth to babies with microcephaly.
     According to Thai virologist Praset Thongcharoen, twice as many Thai babies are born with microcephaly — 4.3 infants per 100,000 — than the global average.
     Zika infections could hinder Thailand’s tourism industry, which has recently rebounded from coups, violent street protests and bomb attacks.

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