Maldives to widen screening after first Zika case

Maldives health protection agency is set to widen screening for Zika after two locals tested positive for the mosquito born disease.

Health Protection Agency (HPA) epidemiologist Dr Ibrahim Afzal said the two locals from the capital Male region tested positive for Zika late last month or early this month.

Afzal confirmed that a total 517 people with suspected symptoms had been tested.

HPA is ready to test samples brought in from all across the archipelago by the end of next week, he added.

HPA had set up testing facilities at the state run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) and had been carrying out random tests on patients presenting with high fever.

"We've made arrangements to test samples brought in from throughout the Maldives. As the virus spreads from mosquitos like dengue, it's difficult to say where there might be an outbreak. If there's an uptick in Aedes mosquito breeding, there's a high chance that it could lead to a spread of the Zika virus," Afzal explained.

According to Afzal, the best way to combat the spread of the Zika virus was to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and urged the public to assist in the effort.

Zika causes only mild symptoms in most, including fever, sore eyes and a rash.

But pregnant women with the mosquito-borne virus risk giving birth to babies with microcephaly — a deformation that leads to abnormally small brains and heads.

Three tourists had tested positive for the virus after they left the Maldives earlier this year.

According to HPA, the tourists each from a different country — Germany, Spain and Finland had tested positive for the virus after holidaying in the Maldives this year.

It was however, unclear that the tourists had contracted the mosquito-borne virus from the Maldives.

There is no cure or vaccine for the virus, which has infected more than 1.5 million people in nearly 70 countries since last year, according to WHO, with Brazil the hardest hit.