Neighbours of Singapore's first Zika victim are worried
For the past two months, Madam Cindy Chan has been reminding her grandchildren to check for new mosquito bites on their bodies after reading about the Zika virus.
The 62-year-old retiree told The New Paper yesterday evening: "My daughter sat the two kids down and explained what the Zika virus was, what causes it and so on.
"We told them to tell us immediately when they see a new bite on their body, but thankfully, they haven't had any."
The children are aged nine and 12.
And Madam Chan had every reason to be careful.
Yesterday, news broke that Singapore had its first Zika virus case.
In a joint press release by Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday, it was revealed that the "patient is a 48-year-old male Singapore permanent resident who had travelled to Sao Paulo, Brazil from March 27 to May 7 this year."
Brazil alone had some 1.5 million infections out of an estimated global total of 2 million in more than 40 countries.
The joint statement said the patient, after his return, had "developed a fever and broke out in rashes" on Tuesday.
The man, who lives in Watten Estate in Bukit Timah, was admitted to Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital on Thursday and was isolated.
MOH and NEA said "he will be transferred to the Communicable Diseases Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital for treatment and isolation to minimise the chances of being bitten by mosquitoes and spreading the infection in the community".
The patient, who is well and recovering, will be discharged only after he tests negative for the virus.
Madam Chan, who occasionally stays with her daughter's family in Watten Estate, was shocked when she heard the news.
The Watten Estate area is not a dengue cluster, MOH and NEA said, which Madam Chan found out after reading the news online.
"I am definitely concerned. Plus, the patient is someone who lives in this area.
"I don't even dare to have plants or ponds because of this virus," she said.
"But I guess all we can do now is to continuously make sure that this area remains a dengue-free cluster."
Madam Chan added: "I constantly tell the maid to make sure the buckets are all overturned and everything is dry. I'm trying to eliminate every possible risk and I think it's important that everyone does their part."
Another resident in the area, Mr Daniel Teo, 56, said: "Generally, we don't have a mosquito problem in this area so I'm not as worried.
"But I will need to see how the government bodies deal with this first case for me to really be at ease with the situation," the banker said.
"After all, he is from this area. I hope NEA and MOH step up their precautionary measures to make sure that the one patient has not transmitted the virus to anybody else."
The Straits Times had previously reported that Dr Lim Poh Lian, head of the infectious diseases department at the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said: "When Zika arrives here, it is likely to have a similar effect as chikungunya."
The first transmission of chikungunya - another virus transmitted to people by mosquitoes - in Singapore was in 2008, but numbers remained low, peaking in 2013 with 1,059 cases.
Last year, 42 people were infected.
Dr Lim had said: "To prevent Zika's spread, anyone with a confirmed infection will be hospitalised until tests show he no longer harbours the virus in his blood."
In the meantime, given the present situation, MOH and NEA advised residents of Watten Estate, Hillcrest Arcadia, The Arcadia and Watten Hill Condominium to monitor their health.
It is a precautionary measure because symptoms do not always appear instantly.
Zika infections can appear similar to dengue infections as they share similar symptoms such as rash, headache and muscle pain.
But those infected by the Zika virus also tend to have conjunctivitis, more commonly known as red eyes. (See infographics on right.)
Those exhibiting symptoms should see a doctor immediately.
MOH and NEA are advising residents to practice the five-step Mozzie Wipeout, which includes turning over all water storage containers and changing water in vases and bowls on alternate days.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said at a seminar organised by the People's Association last month that it is "almost inevitable" that the Zika virus will find its way here.
Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, attributed the likelihood of imported Zika cases to the vast number of foreign visitors that Singapore plays host to.
The MOH and NEA had put preventative measures in place long before the first case was announced yesterday.
These measures included admitting confirmed cases to a public hospital, issuing circulars to doctors to teach them how to test for and deal with suspected cases, and issuing health advisories to travellers on how to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Last month, the World Health Organisation warned of the potential for a "marked increase" in the number of Zika infections in the coming months and its spread to new parts of the world even as the outbreak declines in Brazil.
Largely contained to Latin America and the Caribbean, Zika's range is likely to expand as summer arrives in the northern hemisphere - and with it the virus-transmitting mosquitoes.
Cases have been reported in the region including neighbouring countries like the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia.
Early last month, Vietnam reported its first two cases of the virus.
Generally, we don't have a mosquito problem in this area so I'm not as worried. But I will need to see how the government bodies deal with this first case for me to really be at ease with the situation.
- Mr Daniel Teo, a Watten Estate resident