VIETNAM : Vietnam may have become the second Asian country, following Thailand, to report a case of microcephaly due to Zika contraction, with a four-month-old girl in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak showing signs of the birth defect.
The baby showed typical signs of the condition, born with an unusually small head and a flat head front.
She and her mother have undergone five examinations conducted by the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology so far this month, all of which showed that they were previously infected with the virus.
A medical history showed that the mother suffered from skin rashes and fever in her third and sixth week of pregnancy, according to the General Department of Preventive Medicine under the Ministry of Health.
The document also noted that dengue fever was battering the area the patient resides in at that time.
Raising the alarm level of the epidemic, the health ministry said at a meeting with national and international organizations on Monday that it would deliver the medical samples taken from the mother and her infant to Japan for a re-examination.
Should the samples yield the same result, this will be the first case of Zika-caused microcephaly to be confirmed in Vietnam, taking the number of native patients contracting the virus to nine, including four in Ho Chi Minh City, one in the southern province of Binh Duong, one in Nha Trang City, and another in the south-central province of Phu Yen.
Four foreigners have also informed Vietnamese authorities of their infection during their stay in the Southeast Asian country, including an Australian man in March, a Korean woman in May, a German woman and a Taiwanese man, both confirmed in September.
Vietnam may be the second country in Asia to report such a birth defect after Thailand.
Masaya Kato, an expert from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam, said that Zika has been considered an epidemic in the Southeast Asian country.
A check on 24,000 mosquito specimens in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa indicated that the percentage of the mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus is 0.3%, higher than the proportion of those carrying the dengue fever virus, which is a common disease in Vietnam.
But not all pregnant women who are infected with Zika will bear offspring with microcephaly as the chance of having the birth defect ranges from one to 10%, according to Masaya.
Microcephaly can result from other diseases, namely toxoplasmosis (caused by a parasite found in undercooked meat), syphilis, rubella, herpes, and HIV, or can be caused by pre- and perinatal injuries to the developing brain (hypoxia-ischemia, trauma), according to the WHO.
Doctor Tran Danh Cuong, deputy director of the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said that the condition can be diagnosed in the prenatal stage by fetal ultrasound for two weeks.
“If the kid’s head circumference does not grow, it is likely that the fetus suffers from the condition,” Cuong explained.
The WHO said that the most reliable way to assess whether a baby has microcephaly is to measure head circumference 24 hours after birth, compare the value with WHO growth standards, and continue to measure the rate of head growth in early infancy.
Babies born with microcephaly may develop convulsions and suffer physical and learning disabilities as they grow older, according to the global health organization.
Dr. Cuong said that protecting oneself from mosquito bites is a critical solution to be safe from Zika.
This can be done by wearing long-sleeved clothes, applying mosquito repellent on exposed skin on a regular basis, and spraying mosquito-killing aerosol in houses and offices.