KOTA KINABALU - People in Sabah may not need to be too worried about the Zika virus because they could have inborn antibodies since it is said to be endemic here.
A Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) professor said the virus has been found in apes and probably humans here as early as the 1960s.
"From what scientists have researched and confirmed, we know that the orang utan are among apes or monkeys that carry the virus," molecular epidemiologist Prof Dr Kamruddin Ahmed said.
However, due to deforestation and other factors forcing more animal-human contact, the Zika virus has been spread to humans, he said during an open forum on the virus at UMS on Tuesday.
"It means that most of us probably have a natural anti-body against the virus," he said.
"Therefore, it may mean that this Zika virus may not affect us the same way it is affecting other people in other parts of the world, especially Brazil where many babies born of Zika-infected mothers have microcephaly (small head) syndrome," Dr Kamruddin said, adding that the Zika virus strains in Malaysia and South America were different.
He said there was also no concrete proof that microcephaly was caused by Zika virus but researchers are still trying to find answers to its cause and symptoms.
He also said that international scientists are closer to finding a vaccine against the virus suitable for humans.
Three experimental vaccines were reportedly developed by researchers at Harvard's Beth Israel Hospital and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
The vaccines tested on monkeys were found to be safe and protected the animals against infection, according to the report published in Science magazine.
Dr Kamruddin advised people to be cautious but not panic, and to take measures to ensure they do not contract the virus.
"There are still a lot of questions we cannot answer so it is best that we all take precautionary measures," he said.
Kota Kinabalu health office public health medicine consultant Dr Jiloris @ Julian Dony urged the public to use mosquito nets at home, wear light and long-sleeved shirt and pants, as well as spray repellents when necessary to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
"Everyone has a part in keeping their surroundings clean and to rid their areas of mosquito breeding grounds," he said, adding that there is no screening for Zika virus at public hospitals and clinics as of now.
Also present at the forum were former Sabah Health Department director, who is now the public health medicine consultant for FMHS, Datuk Dr Mohd Yusof Ibrahim; FMHS entomologist Prof Dr Chua Tock Hing; Jesselton Medical Centre infectious disease consultant Dr Timothy William; and FMHS deputy dean of academic and student affairs Prof Dr Ahmad Faris Abdullah.