Zika alert: WHO says virus poised to spread in Asia; Singapore remains vulnerable

As many as 16 pregnant women in Singapore have been confirmed to have Zika virus.

Zika virus outbreak spreads
Gleyse Kelly holds her daughter Maria Geovana, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil, January 25, 2016. Reuters

Close on the heels of Singapore experiencing a surprisingly large number of Zika infections, the World Health Organisation has warned that the virus could spread vigorously in the region.

The mosquito-borne virus, which has afflicted people in as many as 70 countries, was "highly likely" to spread across Asia, WHO director Margaret Chan said.

"Unfortunately, scientists do not yet have answers to many critical questions," Chan said at a WHO meeting in Manila.

Thailand last week confirmed two cases of Zika-borne microcephaly in the country. Microcephaly is a severe birth defect linked to the Zika virus in which children are born with unusually small head, causing poor brain development.

Thai officials' announcement shook health experts in South East Asia as it was the first time that this deadly condition was reported in the region.

Thailand has reported as many as 350 cases of Zika since the start of this year. This includes 25 cases of pregnant women being infected with the virus -- a potentially worrisome situation as it makes newborns vulnerable to microcephaly.

In comparison, according to data on the National Environment Agency's website, a total of 387 Zika cases were confirmed in Singapore. Alarmingly, this includes 16 pregnant women have been confirmed to have Zika virus.

Zika facts

You get the disease when bitten by the infected Aedes mosquitoes.

Usually only one in five people infected with the virus gets sick.

According to WHO, the symptoms of Zika fever consist of mild fever, rash (mostly maculo-papular), headaches, arthralgia, myalgia, asthenia, and non-purulent conjunctivitis, occurring about three to twelve days after the mosquito vector bite.

Most cases are mild but the disease develops complications in certain cases, especially in pregnant women and newborn babies.

In Singapore, medical experts have said the country is extremely vulnerable to Zika virus.

In Southeast Asia, Cambodia and Thailand have reported Zika virus and the disease has historically occurred in southeast Asia.

In Thailand, authorities have decided that pregnant women infected with Zika virus can undergo abortion without legal consequences.

The Philippines last month confirmed its first reported case of a pregnant woman infected with the Zika virus.