The Australian government is advising pregnant women to consider postponing travel to Indonesia due to the potentially harmful impact of the Zika virus on their babies.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s smartraveller website warns that Indonesia is experiencing sporadic transmission of the mosquito-borne virus.
It advises: “Given the possibility that Zika virus can cause severe malformations in unborn babies, and taking a very cautious approach, pregnant women should discuss any travel plans with their travel doctor and consider postponing travel to Indonesia."
Zika has been linked to a surge of microcephaly and other neurological conditions effecting thousands of babies. Most have occurred in Brazil but another 12 countries have now reported microcephaly in the infants of returned female travellers.
Taiwanese authorities quarantined a 22-year-old Indonesian sailor who displayed the typical Zika symptoms of fever and red eyes on arrival at Kaohsiung International Airport earlier in the month. It’s not known where the sailor was infected, however the Indonesian Ministry of Health sent a team to the man’s East Java village of Tangkil last week to determine if the virus was present in mosquitoes at or near his home.
‘Exercise high degree of caution’ - DFAT
Smartraveller’s overall travel advice for Indonesia otherwise remains unchanged: Australians are advised to protect themselves against mosquito bites and exercise ‘a high degree of caution’ in Indonesia, including Bali, due to the ongoing ‘high threat of terrorist attack’. Dengue fever and chikungunya fever are both circulating widely across Indonesia.
The new advice on Zika brings Australia into line with the World Health Organization and America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in advising pregnant women against travel to areas where the virus is circulating.
Indonesian authorities say they have taken steps to respond to a possible outbreak of Zika. Dengue patients have been secretly tested for Zika, the health ministry's director general for disease prevention and control, Mohammad Subah told the local media outlets.
Zika virus is not yet a notifiable disease in Australia, so cases among returned travellers are not being collated by the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System in the same way as dengue, chikungunya and other vector-borne diseases.
No decline in Zika - WHO
According to its latest weekly Zika situation report, the WHO’s risk assessment remains unchanged: It sees no overall decline in the Zika epidemic in the Americas, though case rates have dropped in some countries or parts of countries. Zika is also circulating in regions of Asia and the Pacific.
The CDC has advised that the USA has now recorded 3 infants with microcephaly on its Zika Pregnancy Register and 3 stillborn babies with birth defects. There have been 756 US travellers return home with Zika.
El Salvador is the latest country in the Americas to report microcephaly in a child born to a Zika-infected mother, taking the number of countries with confirmed cases to 12.
Last week, Spanish doctors reported the details of a congenital Zika infection in the foetus of a woman infected with Zika in Venezuela.
There is no vaccine available to prevent infection with Zika and travellers heading to risk areas are advised to use strict measures to avoid mosquito bites.
Read more on Zika from Travelvax Australia, the WHO and CDC. To discuss your travel plans, including the risk of insect-borne infections and any vaccinations recommended for your trip, call our free travel health advisory service on 1300 360 164.