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by Kevin Cain

For those who remember the 1987 explosion of dengue fever throughout the Kingdom, Thailand is bracing itself for an even worse epidemic in 2016. Last year there were 140,000 cases of dengue fever which was the highest number since the epic number of 170,000 cases in 1987.

The virus is passed on through aedes mosquito bites and is relatively hard to control as mass chemical spraying is difficult and expensive. The first line of defense has been to treat breeding areas with mosquito killer but as more people move from the country to large cities finding adequate ways to control the disease has proved to be difficult.

Symptoms are flu like and the virus starts with aching joints, a hot fever and sometimes a rash. The fever can affect the liver, cause organ failure and in extreme cases death yet still an effective vaccine does not exist.

Just as the authorities are working on a solution to the increasingly serious dengue situation another virus is making the headlines : Zika virus. Named after a forest in Uganda where it was first discovered, there have recently been cases reported in Southeast Asia and Thailand. Although it is mostly more common in South and Central America.

Zika is spread in exactly the same way dengue, and by the same type of mosquito's. The symptoms are similar but not exactly the same. Like dengue a fever develops and there are joint pains and a rash, but with the addition of conjunctivitis.

The resulting illness is usually milder than dengue with symptoms lasting a couple of days to a week. However, the greatest danger is for pregnant women who can develop Guillain-Barre syndrome when the resulting birth can lead to babies with severe birth defects.

Again like dengue, there is no available vaccine or medication to specifically treat zika. The only medical advice is similar to that of flu, take plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. It is not advisable to take aspirin or ibuprofen as there can be a risk of hemorrhaging.

Whilst authorities struggle to contain both outbreaks there are several precautions you can take to prevent contracting either virus and they are mainly the same.If you are moving about or traveling choose accommodation with mosquito screens on doors and windows. Try to sleep under a permethrin treated mosquito net and do not wash it or expose it to sunlight.

When outdoors wear appropriate clothing to cover exposed skin remembering that mosquitoes can sometimes bite through thin materials. Always spray with an approved mosquito repellent and if you are using sunscreen then apply the repellent after the lotion.There are also some natural repellents such as; citronella oil, peppermint oil, soybean oil and cedar oil. Always use these in addition to any repellent spray you are using.

Here in Thailand the ministry has been working with the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to provide better screening of pregnant women who are displaying symptoms of the zika virus.Recently a ministry spokesman announced that the zika virus infection in pregnant women can lead to microcephaly or abnormal smallness of the head with incomplete brain development and that any new zika infection must be reported to the department.He continued by confirming that although some new zika cases had been reported this was nothing new as there have been confirmed cases since 2012.

So at present there does not seem to be an outbreak of the zika virus in Thailand but of greater concern is the predicted increase in dengue cases.

As the prevention methods are the same for both viruses then it is advisable to continue with the recommended procedures for any mosquito deterrent.and hopefully a fully effective vaccine will not be far away.