Zika cases surge in Singapore as travel advisories issued
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it had added Singapore to its interim travel guidance list, as the number of confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne virus in the city-state rose to 115.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health and National Environment Agency has confirmed 26 new local infections - the majority around the eastern Aljunied suburb where most of the other cases have been clustered.
In a joint statement with the National Environment Agency (NEA), the health ministry said it identified another potential cluster of Zika virus infection in east Singapore, involving three previously reported cases.
“Over time, we expect Zika cases to emerge from more areas. We must work and plan on the basis that there is Zika transmission in other parts of Singapore and extend our vector control efforts beyond the current affected areas,” Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said in the statement.
Many of the initial cases, foreign workers on a condominium project, have since recovered.
Zika, which has been detected in 58 countries and particularly Brazil, causes only mild symptoms for most people, such as fever and a rash.
But in pregnant women, Zika can cause microcephaly, a deformation in which babies are born with abnormally small brains and heads.
The CDC recommended that travellers to Singapore protect themselves from mosquito bites and warned that sexual transmission of Zika virus is also possible, according to a statement on its website. Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection has issued a similar advisory but stopped short of warning against travel to Singapore.
Neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have said they will monitor visitor arrivals from Singapore, while South Korea, Taiwan and Australia have issued travel advisories warning pregnant women and others about the situation there.
Singapore has in recent days waged war on mosquitoes, with teams of inspectors visiting homes to check for mosquito breeding sites while pest controllers have saturated affected estates with insecticide.
The National Environment Agency said it had inspected 5,000 out of 6,000 homes in the affected cluster by Monday, destroying 39 breeding sites.
Those found with mosquito breeding sites in their homes can be fined up to Sg$5,000 ($3,700).
Singapore’s heath authorities also urged all pregnant women showing symptoms of fever or rashes to have themselves tested for the Zika virus.
At the construction site where the Singapore cases were first seen, health authorities have set up a kind of informal quarantine. Work has been shut down and those with Zika have been given their own rooms in a dormitory with “Wi-Fi and their three meals delivered to them,” according to a description in The Straits Times.
All workers are getting their temperature taken twice a day, the newspaper added, and they have to apply mosquito repellent each hour and wear two types of patches with repellent. They are also given vitamin C each day.
Singapore, despite having the highest health care standards in Southeast Asia, is a densely populated tropical island with frequent rain. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water that collects in construction sites, open space and homes.
It is also one of Asia’s cleanest cities but has a chronic problem with dengue fever, which is spread by the same Aedes mosquito that carries the Zika virus.
Singapore’s first reported case of Zika in May involved a man who had visited Sao Paulo in Brazil earlier in the year.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse, The Washington Post