'Never seen such a massive number of cases': Doctor who alerted MOH about gastroenteritis outbreak

'Never seen such a massive number of cases': Doctor who alerted MOH about gastroenteritis outbreak

Dr Angela Cheong, a GP at Cheong Clinic along Owen Road, says that throughout her 20 years of practice, she has not seen such a "massive number of cases" of patients with gastroenteritis in a day.

pek kio food centre
Pek Kio Market and Food Centre being cleaned and disinfected after it was linked to an outbreak of gastroenteritis in May 2016. (Photo: Liyana Othman)

SINGAPORE: After a tip-off by a general practitioner (GP) that her clinic had seen an unusual increase in the number of cases of gastroenteritis since May 16, the Ministry of Health (MOH), together with other agencies, began investigating the surge of patients with gastroenteritis in the Owen Road area.

Dr Angela Cheong, a general practitioner at Cheong Clinic along Owen Road, said that she saw around 30 patients a day at the start of last week - three times more than usual.

"Last Monday when I came to work, I realised that I had a lot of patients with stomach flu symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and high fever,” she said. “By the end of Monday, I had seen like 30 patients with abdominal symptoms.”

Assuming that it was just a Monday after the weekend, she realised that it was no ordinary flu as the days went on into the week. “I've never, as a GP for 20 years in this area, seen such a massive number of cases in one day, two days, in a week for that matter,” said Dr Cheong.

She added that entire families were affected, patients also took longer to recover and there were more patients who made return visits.

"I had to give everything that I had in my arsenal for these patients. In the initial two days, before I realised it was so bad, the medicines were milder. But then when I realised they were coming back and not getting better, I knew I was dealing with something malevolent, so I had to add other medications to stop the symptoms", said Dr Cheong.

However, she noted that the number of cases has gone down this week. "I think people are now more aware that there's a virus going around,” she said. “Maybe they're more careful with their hygiene. They're washing their hands after they go to the toilet or after eating.”

Dr Cheong also said she reminded her patients to make sure that they clean up their homes and disinfect the homes after their family members have recovered. “I think maybe the virus has been stopped in its tracks," she added.

More than 180 cases of gastroenteritis were reported as of Monday and many of them said they had visited Pek Kio Market and Food Centre.

One of the patients told Channel NewsAsia she had patronised the "tze char" stall at a coffeeshop, as well as the vegetarian and bee hoon stalls at Pek Kio food centre last Monday and Tuesday.

The woman, who declined to be named, said she soon developed a fever and started vomiting on Tuesday, which led her to visit the Cheong Clinic in the evening.

She said her stomach flu worsened and she had to make another trip to the clinic a few days later. By then, the clinic had informed MOH.

“MOH reacted really quickly. I’m very pleased with their efficiency,” she said, adding that officers contacted her to find out what food she had consumed or bought in the neighbourhood.

The resident, who has called the Owen Road area home for more than 20 years, also said her neighbours saw MOH officers collecting samples from all food stalls at Pek Kio food centre.

Cleaning and disinfection work also began at the food centre on Wednesday, as part of the authorities' precautionary measures in response to the anomaly. Cleaners and business owners will thoroughly clean their premises and the food centre is set to reopen on Friday.

Source: CNA/xk