Saudi Arabia faces a bigger threat from dengue fever than from the Zika virus which is sweeping through Latin America, according to experts in the field.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Symptoms, which typically begin three to 14 days after infection, may include a high fever, headache, vomiting, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash.
Zika virus is related to dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. The illness it causes is similar to a mild form of dengue fever.
The Kingdom recorded 6,000 cases of dengue fever in 2015, said Ministry of Health Contagious Diseases Director General Prof. Hayel Al-Abdali.
“Six of the infected patients died in 2015,” he said, adding, “Dengue fever is a bigger threat to the Kingdom than the Zika virus. Both diseases are transmitted through the bite of Aedes Aegypti mosquito and both have the same symptoms.”
He said that the GCC Health Committee had announced that all Gulf countries are free from Zika virus. The Saudi Ministry of Health also confirmed that the Kingdom is free of Zika virus.
“The ministry has warned travelers planning to visit infected countries to take full precaution and to follow the ministry’s preventive measures,” said Al-Abdali.
He also said travelers with weak immunities and chronic diseases should consult their doctors before traveling.
“Pregnant women planning to visit infected countries should inform their doctors. The doctors must be informed to run the appropriate tests after their return. They are advised to postpone their traveling plan until they give birth,” said Al-Abdali.
He also said that travelers who experience symptoms of any of the diseases within three weeks of returning from a visit abroad should immediately get a medical checkup and visit their doctors.
“The symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, rash, muscle pain, pain in the joints, headache and conjunctivitis. The symptoms usually last for two to seven days,” said Al-Abdali.
GCC Ministers of Health Executive Office Director General Prof. Tawfiq Khoujah said the ministries of health of all Gulf countries should immediately inform the World Health Organization if a case of Zika virus is recorded.
“The office will hold a conference on Feb. 17 to discuss preventive strategies and potential cures. The virus is not native to Gulf countries.
At the moment, there are no readily available vaccines against the disease,” said Khoujah.
He added the vaccine discovered and developed in India is not yet ready to be used.
“The vaccine requires more testing and further research. The ministers of health are looking for immediate solutions. The International Food and Drug Organization has not approved any vaccines despite the fact that many pharmaceutical companies are competing in research to develop the vaccine,” said Khoujah.