Tightening zika virus surveillance at Indonesian ports

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Many countries, including Indonesia, are reeling under the scare of Zika virus that has spread rapidly in American and Asian regions after the outbreak occurred in Brazil in early 2015.

Zika virus is transmitted primarily through the bite of infected Aedes species of mosquitoes.

Although not deadly, Zika virus can cause spontaneous abortion and birth defects, including microcephaly, during pregnancy.

In adults, Zika infection has also been linked to a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, as well as other neurological disorders.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya that causes mild fever, rash and red eyes.

Zika outbreak is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil being the hardest hit, though cases have been cropping up in Asia.

Singapore has reported more than 240 Zika cases since the first locally infected case was detected on Aug. 27 Neighboring Malaysia and the Philippines had reported one such case each until Sept. 5.

Several countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Taiwan, have issued travel advisories for tourists visiting Singapore after the city-state announced a further rise in Zika cases.

There are no human cases of Zika infection in Indonesia so far, but the country has to be on alert because its warm climate is a potential and ideal breeding ground of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

Following reports of Zika cases in Singapore particularly, the Indonesian government has issued a travel advisory regarding the zika virus outbreak in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading to the country.

"Yes, a travel advisory has been issued through the Foreign Affairs Ministry to disseminate information. This aims to protect Indonesian people from contracting the Zika virus," spokesman of the Health Ministry, Oscar Primadi, noted in a statement on Sept. 2.

The travel advisory was issued particularly for Indonesians intending to travel to countries affected by the Zika virus.

Indonesians visiting Zika-affected nations are advised to protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes by wearing clothes that cover their body, arms, and limbs; using mosquito repellents; using screens on windows and doors; and sleeping under mosquito nets.

In case a person falls ill, he/she is advised to immediately see a doctor.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid areas affected by the Zika virus.

Those who have recently visited countries with reported cases of Zika virus are advised to undergo medical examination within 14 days of their arrival.

Regions sharing their borders with affected countries are advised to implement vector control strategies by eradicating the breeding grounds of mosquitoes.

Furthermore, the Indonesian government has intensified a surveillance system to detect human cases of Zika virus in various seaports and airports to prevent the virus from spreading to the country.

The Transportation Ministry has coordinated with the Health Ministry and related organizations to maintain vigil to prevent and minimize the impact and spread of the Zika virus.

Special Staff for International Relations and Public Communication at the Transportation Ministry Dewa Made Sastrawan revealed that the health units at seaports and crossings in Batam and several main international airports in Indonesia have installed mass thermal scanners to detect and monitor the body temperature of passengers from Singapore and Malaysia, with a peak tolerance limit of 38 degrees Celsius.

"The passengers arriving from Singapore and Malaysia at ports in Batam and the main international airports are required to undergo screening and fill a Health Alert Card (HAC) to monitor the health conditions of the passengers at the embarkation points in Singapore and Malaysia," he remarked.

Meanwhile, aircraft departing from Singapore and Malaysia intending to Indonesia are required to undergo dis-infection, and the flight crew members have to report to the control tower at the destination airport in Indonesia if there are passengers or crew members suspected of experiencing health problems, possibly a result of contracting the Zika virus when the aircraft was airborne.

At Balis airport, for instance, a thermo-scanner has been installed to detect body temperature in anticipation of the spread of Zika virus.

The equipment has been installed at the international arrival terminal, according to the head of the health services at the port, Lucky Tjahyono said recently.

He informed that the ports health service is also undertaking special monitoring and detection for any possible diseases, scanning the arriving passengers, especially those from Singapore where the virus has spread.

Due to the high frequency of flights arriving from that country, the health service is on high alert.

If a passenger is found having a high body temperature, he/she would be quarantined before being sent to a hospital, he stressed.

He said his office has cooperated with the Port Authority 4th Region of Bali and Nusa Tenggara, port operator Angkasa Pura I and other agencies to anticipate and act against the spread of the virus.

Other airports where thermal scanners have been installed include Husein Sastranegara airport in Bandung, West Java Province, and the Sultan Aji Muhmmad Sulaiman Sepinggan Airport in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan Province.

In the meantime, Riau Islands Province which shares border with Singapore, has claimed that the Zika outbreak in Singapore has affected the tourism industry in Batam City.

"Singapore is an important country for Batam. If the current trend continues, foreign tourist arrivals will drop further," Head of the Batam City tourism and culture office, Yusfa Hendri, said on Sept. 5.

Travel advisories issued by several countries, such as Malaysia, Korea and Australia, over the Zika outbreak in Singapore, have an impact on Batam because most of the foreign tourists visiting Batam had entered from Singapore, he explained.

Since the tourists avoided going to Singapore, they ended up skipping Batam also, he added.

According to information from the Batam immigration office, the number of foreign tourists coming from or going to Singapore has dropped lately, though he did not have the exact figure.

Hendri hoped that the government of Singapore would be able to deal with the Zika virus problem soon.

The Batam authorities have taken several measures to prevent the Zika virus from spreading to the city.

The local health office distributes health alert cards to passengers crossing by ferries from Singapore and wishing to enter Batam.

Upon arrival at the Batam seaport, they have to go through thermal scanners so that their body temperature can be checked.

(F001/INE)
EDITED BY INE
(T.F001/A/KR-BSR/F001)

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