According to Thailand’s health ministry, the country is considering implementing country-wide Zika virus testing for all pregnant women. Last week, the country confirmed its first known case of microcephaly, a birth defect that has been associated with Zika infection during pregnancy.
Two cases of Zika-associated microcephaly have now been confirmed, which are the first of their kind in Southeast Asia. The Zika virus – spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito – has begun to spread in the area since the first cases were confirmed in the Americas last year.
“The health minister has asked us to study whether this is necessary and cost-effective,” Sophon Mekthon, health minister permanent secretary told Reuters. The tests – which cost approximately 2,000 baht ($58) – would be offered free-of-charge, however Mekthon says that the diagnostic test must often be repeated to confirm results.
“At the moment, we check pregnant women in Zika-affected areas only, not all pregnant women,” said Mekthon. “So far, we’ve tested about 1,000 pregnant women.”
Microcephaly is one of the birth defects caused by the Zika virus, with small head size potentially leading to brain damage and other problems. Brazil is considered to be the epicenter of the current Zika outbreak, with over 1,800 cases of microcephaly confirmed to date.
Other Southeast Asian countries including Thailand and Singapore have identified nearly 400 cases of the Zika virus, with some of these occurring in pregnant women. With no available vaccine and up to 80 percent of cases being asymptomatic, those who are infected are often unaware.
In Singapore, Zika testing is free for expectant mothers showing symptoms of the disease, or those with a male partner who is infected. Some cases of sexual transmission of the disease have been reported, and the Zika virus has been linked to a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults.