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Babies born to Zika patients to be monitored until age 3: MOH

A total of 17 pregnant women in Singapore are confirmed to have contracted Zika as of Dec 21. Three of them have given birth and their babies have no signs of microcephaly, says the Health Ministry. 

SINGAPORE: Babies born to women who were infected with Zika during pregnancy will be monitored until they reach the age of three, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday (Dec 27).

There have not been any reported cases of Zika-linked microcephaly in Singapore yet, although the virus has been linked to the birth defect elsewhere - Colombia reported a spike in microcephaly and about six per cent of Zika pregnancies in the United States resulted in babies with birth defects.

In Singapore, 17 pregnant women were confirmed to have contracted Zika as of Dec 21. Three of them have given birth and their babies have no signs of microcephaly. Doctors will continue to follow up closely with the pregnant women and their babies, said MOH.

One woman had a miscarriage for reasons not linked to Zika. Two pregnancies were terminated, although there was no evidence that the foetuses were infected with Zika.

MOH declined to give further details, citing patient confidentiality.

It added that the three-year plan is part of a national surveillance programme to track the development of babies born to pregnant women with Zika.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases expert at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said that doctors should look out for anomalies in the baby's development during the three-year period: "When can they stand and when can they pull themselves up; when can they hold a pen, when they can pick up peas or small little items, when can they write.

"You look at the speech, when he can say 'papa' or 'mama', when he can start mimicking, parroting and start forming sentences. I would also look at the social behaviour - whether there's good eye contact, and also look at (how they) play - is it normal play or obsessive play?" said Dr Leong.

Zika has also been linked to glaucoma, with a team of Yale researchers identifying the first case of Zika-related glaucoma, which can cause permanent damage and blindness. Another study linked the virus to hearing loss in infants.

NUMBER OF ZIKA CASES WILL REMAIN LOW: MOH

Singapore has not seen any new Zika cases since Dec 11, according to data on the National Environment Agency's website. The last cluster - blocks 542, 544 and 545 at Bedok North Street 3 - was closed earlier this month but currently remains under surveillance.

MOH said the number of reported Zika cases will continue to be low, and cases could go undiagnosed as the infection could be mild or asymptomatic. However, the ministry cautioned the public not to let their guard down as long as the Aedes mosquito - which spreads the virus - is around.