WHO on Tuesday urged Southeast Asian countries and India to strengthen surveillance and take preventive measures against Zika virus, especially as the mosquito responsible for its spread is found in many areas of the region.
WHO also urged countries in the region to build capacity of their laboratories to detect the virus and strengthen surveillance for cases of fever and rash, neurological syndromes and birth defects while recommending intensifying vector control programme measures.
"Countries in the region should strengthen surveillance and take preventive measures against the Zika virus which is strongly suspected to have a causal relation with clusters of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities.
"Countries should build capacity of their laboratories to detect the virus and strengthen surveillance for cases of fever and rash, neurological syndromes and birth defects.
Countries should intensify their vector control program and prepare health services for managing Zika virus," said WHO Southeast Asia Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh.
The World Health Organisation declared an international emergency yesterday over the explosive spread of Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in the Americas, saying it is an "extraordinary event".
The Centre on Tuesday also issued detailed guidelines, including a travel advisory for pregnant women urging them to either defer or cancel their travel to the areas affected with the virus.
Singh said Zika virus is of "concern" in the WHO Southeast Asia region as the Aedes aegyptii mosquito which is responsible for its spread is found in many areas and there is "no evidence of immunity" to the virus in many populations of the area.
WHO's South-East Asia Region comprises 11 countries Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
It said that in the past sporadic Zika virus cases were reported from Thailand and Maldives.
Singh also urged countries to share information on suspected Zika virus cases to enable early detection and containment of any outbreak in the region.
All sectors that can assist, should be engaged and the public informed of the risks and preventive measures against the virus, she said.
Singh said that people can protect themselves against mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing clothes that cover as much of the body as possible and using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows.
"Everyone should help prevent breeding of mosquitoes by emptying containers that hold standing water in and around their houses," she said.
Noting that WHO is providing support to countries to step up surveillance and preventive measures, Singh said the UN agency has has activated its new incident management system, established under the organization's emergency reform programme.
"WHO is supporting countries to reduce the international spread of the disease and in nations where the disease has been detected to help understand the potential link between Zika virus and birth defects," she said.
Zika virus, first discovered in Uganda in 1947, is spread through bites from Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector for dengue.
The most common symptoms of Zika virus infection are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild with the symptoms lasting a week but there is no vaccine for it, WHO said.