Thailand discloses 200 Zika virus cases, says tourism may take a hit

Health officials express fear of negative impact on the lucrative tourism industry..

The Thai health ministry said on Tuesday that it has recorded about 200 cases of Zika virus infection since January, making it a country with one of the highest numbers of confirmed cases in the region.

"Since January, we have recorded about 200 cases and over the past three weeks, we have confirmed an average of 20 new cases per week," Ministry of Public Health spokesman Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters.

"The number of cases is stable," he added.

This is the first time the ministry has confirmed the number of Zika virus cases in 2016.

The announcement comes a day after the health experts urged Thailand to be more transparent in reporting the Zika threat to the public.

The health officials expressed fear that disclosing information on Zika would have a negative impact on the lucrative tourism industry of Thailand.

"If we say which province has infections [of Zika] then attention will turn on that province, and if that province is popular with tourists it will have an impact on tourism," Anuttarasakdi Ratchatatat, an epidemiologist at the health ministry's Bureau of Vector Borne Disease, told Reuters.

Suwannachai urged the public not to panic and reassured the tourists.

"People shouldn't be scared to visit provinces affected by the Zika virus," Suwannachai said.

Singapore reported the first case of locally transmitted Zika virus on August 27 but the number of reported infections have crossed 300 till date.

Apart from Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines have also reported Zika virus cases.

Researchers say the virus that is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean has been circulating in Asia for years but the lineage of the virus in Asia is different to those in America.

According to the World Health Organization, the level of population immunity to the lineage of Zika in Asia still remains unknown.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947. It can be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby.

The virus can cause birth defects and can also result in microcephaly in which the baby's head is smaller than expected.

While in cases of adults, Zika infections have been linked to a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, and other neurological disorders as well.

Thailand's health ministry said six women have given birth without complications so far and there were no cases of microcephaly.