SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) has confirmed 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore, it announced on Sunday (Aug 28). Of these, 34 people have fully recovered while the other seven, who are still symptomatic and potentially infectious, are recovering at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
In a press conference on Sunday, MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that all the cases are residents or workers in the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive area. They are not known to have travelled to Zika-affected areas recently, and are thus likely to have been infected in Singapore.
"At this point, the community transmission appears to be localised within the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive cluster," said Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, Director of Medical Services at MOH.
Of the cases, 36 are foreign workers who worked at a construction site at 60 Sims Drive. Others include four Singaporean men aged between 21 and 65.
The announcement comes a day after NEA and MOH said a 47-year-old Malaysian woman living at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent was Singapore's first reported case of locally transmitted Zika. She is the only female out of the 41 cases.
AREAS OF CONCERN
Aside from the Aljunied and Sims Drive cluster, areas of concern include Khatib Camp, where a 21-year-old patient is serving National Service, and Sembawang Drive, where a 30-year-old patient who works at the Sims Drive construction site lives. Places where the construction workers live – Joo Chiat Place, Senoko South Road, Toh Guan East and Lorong 101 Changi – are the other areas of concern.
“Given that the Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito vector, MOH cannot rule out further community transmission in Singapore, since some of those tested positive also live or work in other parts of Singapore,” said Assoc Prof Ong.
MOH will continue to screen the close contacts of confirmed cases. It is also carrying out Zika testing on others living and working in the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive and other areas of concern who have symptoms of fever and rash.
The Health Ministry has also worked with the contractors at a construction site at Sims Drive to screen the workers who were recently reported by a general practitioner to have symptoms of fever, rash and conjunctivitis. The authorities have also verified that so far, there are no symptomatic cases at Khatib Camp.
MOH has also alerted all GPs, polyclinics and hospitals to be extra vigilant and to immediately report patients with symptoms associated with Zika to the ministry.
Since Saturday, NEA has intensified vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in the vicinity of Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive. More than 200 officers have been deployed to inspect the area.
“We expect to identify more positive cases. Given that the majority of Zika cases are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and mosquitoes in the affected area may already have been infected, isolation of positive cases may have limited effect to managing the spread," said NEA and MOH in a joint press release on Sunday.
HEALTH ADVISORY FOR PREGNANT WOMEN
According to studies, the microcephaly risk for babies born to Zika-infected mothers is between 1 and 10 per cent, said Associate Professor Arijit Biswas, Head and Senior Consultant of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at National University Hospital.
Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected compared to babies of the same sex and age.
According to MOH and NEA, pregnant women should take precautions if living, working, studying or travelling to an affected area. If they do not have symptoms, routine antenatal care is sufficient. Individuals working, studying or living in an affected area should adopt safe sex practices or consider abstinence throughout the women's pregnancies, MOH and NEA added.
Besides Singapore, 57 other countries have reported cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection.