MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday, September 26, said the Philippines now has a total of 12 cases of Zika virus for 2016.
"The 22-year-old confirmed case from Cebu is also 19 weeks pregnant with her first child. So this is our first pregnant case in the country. Initial examination through ultrasound revealed no detectable fetal abnormalities. She will be monitored regularly during the entire period of pregnancy," Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said in a press conference.
On Monday, the department announced 3 new cases of the virus, bringing to 12 the total number of locally-transmitted Zika virus cases in the Philippines this 2016.
The 3 new cases were reported in Iloilo City and the nearby town of Oton, the department said. The pregnant patient, the DOH added, is from one of the previously reported cases.
*Previously reported case from Laguna traced to Muntinlupa upon verification
The 12 cases come from 3 regions (National Capital Region, Western Visayas, Central Visayas), with ages ranging from 9 years old to 55 years old. Eight out of the 12 cases are women.
"These cases did not have history of travel to an affected country a month prior to the onset of their illness," Ubial said, explaining that they all acquired the virus through mosquito bites.
"All of these confirmed cases presented with skin rashes with any one of the following: fever, muscle or joint paints, conjunctivitis without eye discharge, or redness of the eyes. All have recovered from their mild illness," she added.
She also advised the public not to be alarmed because while there is local transmission of Zika in the Philippines, "it is not widespread."
Zika, which resembles a light case of the flu, is transmitted by mosquito species found in tropical and sub-tropical regions: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, or tiger mosquitoes.
The disease is strongly suspected of causing birth defects such as microcephaly and other brain deformities in newborns. (READ: FAST FACTS: Zika virus)
All 12 cases and their contacts and neighbors were advised by the health department to avoid mosquito bites by applying insect repellent over exposed areas at least a week after the onset of their illness.
They were also advised to practice safe sex and to avoid blood donation and unsafe needle practices for the next 6 months – the monitoring period for virus survival.
Zika in pregnant women
World Health Organization Representative in the Philippines Gundo Weiler explained that risk is higher if Zika infection occurs at the early stage of pregnancy, "but there can also be consequences if the infection occurs at the later stage."
Ubial said the pregnant woman who tested positive for Zika will be monitored in a hospital as an outpatient.
"At that stage [of the pregnancy], we have only prenatal checkups for every 4 months, monthly checkup, and when the woman reaches her 32nd week of pregnancy, it becomes every 2 weeks, and every week thereafter. For this particular case, we are having more frequent checkups, that is, every 2 weeks," she explained.
Dr Israel Pargas from PhilHealth said the agency has existing packages both for the confinement of pregnant women with Zika cases and for microcephaly cases.
For now, the department said pregnant women may use insect repellent or mosquito nets at daytime to avoid mosquito bites and potential Zika infection. They should also follow their doctors' advice regarding risks associated with Zika.
Meanwhile, any individual who presents with skin rash and any other symptom of Zika should visit a health facility to rule out the infection.
"We do not recommend travel ban to affected areas since Zika and the mosquito that carries it is actually endemic in the Philippines – it's found all over the country," Ubial explained. – Rappler.com
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had the headline "Pregnant woman among 3 new Zika cases in PH." The DOH later clarified that the pregnant woman is among the previously reported cases, not among the 3 new cases. The headline has been corrected accordingly.
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.