HEALTH officials in the United States on Thursday urged pregnant women planning to travel to 11 Southeast Asian countries to postpone their plans temporarily due to the risk of Zika virus infection, which could lead to severe birth defects.
The advisory issued targets travel to Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Zika has been in some areas of Southeast Asia for years, and some residents may be immune.
But a number of U.S. travelers have become infected there in the last year, so there is a danger to visitors.
According to Reuters, the CDC said, however, that these advisories were different from the “travel notices” issued for Zika-struck countries like Brazil and Singapore.
However, it said the warnings could be issued if cases in the 11 destinations increased to the level of an outbreak.
So far, said the report, the CDC has issued similar advisories for nearly 60 countries and regions.
Zika was first identified in Brazil last year but has since spread globally, affecting 72 countries and territories.
There have been hundreds of reported cases across the Southeast Asian region in recent weeks, mostly in Singapore and Thailand.
A Zika infection can have serious consequences on pregnant women and their unborn children.
If infected, the virus can lead to microcephaly, a congenital condition that causes incomplete brain development. Babies with the infection are typically born with abnormally small heads.
The infection is, however, typically mild and seldom causes death, but shares symptoms with its vastly more fatal cousin, dengue – a common viral scourge in tropical Southeast Asia.
Both are viruses are spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This makes nations ordinarily ravaged by dengue particularly vulnerable to Zika as well.
Earlier this week, Thai authorities said they were investigating four suspected Zika-linked cases of micocephaly in three babies and a 36-week old unborn child. If confirmed to be related to the disease, the cases would be the first to hit Southeast Asia.
Public Health Minister Piyasakon Sakolsatayadorn said the investigation would be done thoroughly as the cases were “sensitive”.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press