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September 24, 2017

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Government sets up Zika command center

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 疾管署) set up a command center Tuesday morning to join in the fight against the spread of the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitos, placing it to the same category of concern as Ebola and MERS.

The infection has been linked to cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains. There have been around 4,000 reported cases of microcephaly in Brazil alone since October, said officials.

Several hours prior to the CDC press conference held in its Taipei headquarters, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the outbreak of microcephaly and a rare paralysis disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS, 神經系統異常) constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

CDC Deputy Director-General Chou Jij-haw (周志浩) said experts strongly suspect there is a causative link between the recent cluster of microcephaly and neurological abnormalities and infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

Establishing an agency-level command center would boost the effectiveness of communication among authorities, and allow labs to treat the matter with more care, remarked Chou.

So far the only case of Zika infection identified in Taiwan has been a Thai national arriving in Taiwan at the airport on Jan. 10, said the official. In addition, they have not observed any significant increase in cases of microcephaly.

At present, the Zika virus has spread to 26 countries in Latin America.

The CDC has issued a Level 2 ("alert") travel notice for the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. Also, a Level 1 ("watch") travel notice has been issued for four countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Maldives.

According to figures released by the Travel Bureau, there are around 12 tour groups — approximately 200 people — traveling to South America during the Lunar New Year, Chou said.

Chou recommended that women who are now pregnant or who are trying to conceive reconsider their trips, asking, "Is it really necessary to travel there this year?"

CDC officials warned travelers to take precautions against mosquito bites, for example by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, to avoid wearing bright colors, and to protect themselves by wearing repellent certified by the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW, 衛福部).

If any discomfort persists after two weeks of returning home, one should seek medical help and notify doctors of where they have traveled to, said Chou.

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