Zika in Singapore: Clinic in Aljunied raised alert
MOH, NEA confirm 41 cases of locally transmitted virus, including 36 workers from this construction site at Sims Drive
It is now confirmed. Singapore has joined the ranks of countries to have locally transmitted Zika virus cases.
This was revealed yesterday at a joint Ministry of Health (MOH)-National Environment Agency (NEA) press briefing, confirming that 41 people have tested positive for local transmission of the Zika virus here.
While the cases identified so far involve workers and residents in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area, more new cases can be expected, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Out of the 124 persons living and working in the affected vicinity with symptoms - fevers, rashes and aches - 41 tested positive for the virus. Another 78 tested negative and five cases are still pending test results.
None of the 124 tested had travelled to Zika-affected countries recently. Of the 41 who were infected, four were Singaporeans and the rest, foreigners.
With the World Health Organisation informed of the new developments here, Singapore has potentially become the 58th country to report local transmission of the virus.
On Saturday, the authorities announced that a 47-year-old Malaysian woman was the first reported case involving local transmission of the virus.
The Malaysian woman, known as Patient A, had reported to a general practitioner on Aug 26. She was later referred to the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) where results confirmed that she had been infected.
But as early as Aug 22, MOH said a clinic in the Aljunied area had informed the ministry of an unusual increase in cases of patients with fevers and joint aches.
MOH then began working with clinics in the area and started tracing those who had shown Zika-like symptoms.
At yesterday's briefing, Professor Leo Yee Sin, senior consultant at the CDC, said it has not determined if the local transmission of the virus was attributed to one person.
She said: "At this point, we have no full genetic sequence. (So) we can't reach a conclusion at this time".
Although Zika does not usually result in death, it is a major concern for expectant mothers in particular.
Pregnant mothers infected with the virus are at risk of delivering babies with microcephaly, a rare condition in which the baby is born with a small head and there is calcification in the brain.
Although only "1 to 10 per cent" of pregnant women with Zika will have a baby with microcephaly, monitoring the foetus is key, said Associate Professor Arijit Biswas, head and senior consultant at the National University Hospital's department of obstetrics and gynaecology.
"Once they (pregnant women) get infected with Zika, I don't think we can do anything to protect her from the effects of the virus... (But) it is important to see if her foetus develops any effects of it," he said.
"I must warn that some of these symptoms may not be present until after birth. The small head does not mean microcephaly, there has to be other features along with it..."
He also added: "It is not that all (pregnant) patients with Zika will have problems. It has been reported that one to 10 per cent infected in the first two trimesters... the rest are alright..."
If the foetus does show signs of microcephaly, the mother can then decide what to do next, including the option of having an abortion.
But the hope is to combat the virus by reducing the number of people exposed to it, and the NEA has intensified its operations to monitor and contain the spread of Zika.
On Aug 27, the agency deployed more than 200 officers in the affected area to conduct inspections, spray the premises and perform thermal fogging to kill adult mosquitoes.
On that day, NEA officers accessed 1,800 premises to carry out checks in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive vicinity.
AFFECTED AREA: The cases identified so far involve workers and residents in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area. PHOTOS: ISKANDAR ROSSALI, SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS
The frequency of drain flushing and oiling has also been increased.
In future cases, where officers are not able to inspect the premises, it "may have to gain entry by force" after serving the necessary notices, said a spokesman yesterday.
A stop work order had also been issued to a construction site at Sims Drive where 36 construction workers were tested positive for the Zika virus.
Seven of the workers are still warded at the CDC while 29 have fully recovered.
Nevertheless, the public has a role to play in stemming the virus' spread.
Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health, said that controlling the breeding of the Aedes mosquito is key to battling the spread of the virus.
He said: "But here we can't do it alone. We need the public's help."
It is not that all (pregnant) patients with Zika will have problems. It has been reported that one to 10 per cent are infected in the first two trimesters... the rest are alright...
- Associate Professor Arijit Biswas, head and senior consultant at the National University Hospital's department of obstetrics and gynaecology
AFFECTED AREA: The cases identified so far involve workers and residents in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area.
TNP INFOGRAPHICS: KELVIN CHAN AND HO YAN HAO
By the numbers
Number of people who tested positive for the Zika virus, based on tests done on 124 people who lived and worked in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area. Of those tested, 78 tested negative and five are still waiting test results. Of those infected, 7 are still recovering.
Pregnant woman returns to Germany to avoid Zika
A pregnant woman left on a plane to Germany last night.
The reason for her haste?
The German, who did not wish to be named, is 28 weeks pregnant and does not want to take any chances with the Zika virus here.
The 42-year-old director of an Austrian jewellery company lives in Joo Chiat, near the cluster in Sims Drive and Aljunied Crescent that has seen cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infections.
Since the authorities announced the first case on Saturday, the number of cases has jumped to 82.
The German woman, who came to Singapore in 2012, told The New Paper that it was "very scary" that it takes a while before the virus can be detected in the body and that only 20 per cent of those infected show symptoms.
Although Zika does not usually result in death, it is a major concern for expectant mothers because if they are infected with the virus, they are at risk of delivering babies with microcephaly - a rare condition where the baby is born with a small head and this can lead to incomplete brain development and other issues.
The pregnant woman said it was particularly worrying that there was little information about Zika and that studies done on the virus seem incomplete or partly contradict each other.
She said: "If you check for precautions (against Zika), they tell you to put on repellent, buy a mosquito net, wear long sleeves and stay in air-conditioned rooms.
"No vaccination is available and even if (the virus is) detected, there is nothing you can do. Unless you are below 24 weeks pregnant and decide to abort.
"All those indicators are not reassuring at all."
She said she was not content with just taking the usual precautions against Zika and she did not want to take any chances with her baby, which is due in mid-November.
So on Monday night, she and her partner made the decision to fly back to Germany.
She plans to continue working from Germany and will deliver her baby there.
"I don't want to panic whenever I've been bitten by a mosquito (in Singapore).
"So my partner and I decided that even if there was only a 1 per cent risk of harm to our baby, we didn't want to take that risk," she said.