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Zika Outbreak May Next Hit Asia-Pacific Region

(CN) - International health officials expect the Zika virus to spread in the Asia-Pacific region, suggesting it could be the next area to experience local active transmission.

The World Health Organization released a report Monday highlighting factors that could lead to the mosquito-borne virus becoming entrenched in the region, which includes Australia, China, Japan, most Southeast Asian nations and the Pacific islands.

Inconsistent disease screening and ineffective mosquito control programs have caused the region to struggle with outbreaks of various diseases and infections from insects in the past — issues that could lead to the spread of Zika there.

Hundreds of infections have been reported in Singapore, and two babies in Thailand have been diagnosed with the Zika-linked microcephaly - a congenital disorder that causes infants to have abnormally small heads and potential brain damage.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan pointed out that the first signs of the virus's presence in the Asia-Pacific region came from travelers whose infections were confirmed after they returned home.

"Is this weak surveillance an indication of population-wide immunity, or proof that the virus has somehow acquired greater epidemic potential?" she asked in her address to a Western Pacific regional meeting of the WHO Monday.

The threat of the virus spreading further has led health officials in the region to increase screening and vector-control efforts.

Research on Zika and disorders linked to the virus continues to grow. Besides microcephaly, Zika is also linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack parts of the peripheral nervous system and can result in paralysis.

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