SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) reported Singapore's first imported case of Zika on Friday (May 13).
In a joint statement, MOH and NEA said: "The patient is a 48-year-old male Singapore Permanent Resident who had travelled to Sao Paulo, Brazil from Mar 27 to May 7. The patient developed fever and rash from May 10 and was admitted to Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital on May 12 and isolated.
"The patient tested positive for Zika virus infection on May 13. 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 is currently well and recovering. He will only be discharged upon being tested negative for the Zika virus."
The statement added that MOH is screening the patient's household members, and that the patient's residence at Watten Estate is not an active cluster. It said that NEA has intensified vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in the area, and that MOH and NEA would actively alert residents in the vicinity to seek medical attention should they develop symptoms of fever and rash.
MOH and NEA nevertheless stated: "We advise residents of Watten Estate, Casa Perla, Hillcrest Arcadia, The Arcadia and Watten Hill Condominium to monitor their health."
Residents Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they were "quite alarmed to learn about the Zika virus". Samuel Lim, 33, noted: "There are a lot of mosquitoes in this area. One walk around the nearby park, and you get 20 bites in one minute." Mr Lim was referring to the playground at the junction of Watten Rise and Shelford Road. His wife, Emily Luah, 31, added: "I'm also four months pregnant so I'm quite worried about this, but there are only so many precautions I can take."
Another resident, John Westnedge, 52, said: "I’ll be completely honest. I think we are little freaked out and we’ll be wearing patches every day but that fades, unfortunately – so how do we keep that up? Or is this just a one-off event when someone went to Brazil and happened to be bitten by a mosquito with Zika and they’re now in Singapore with the Zika virus?"
Watten Estate as pictured on Google Maps
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli wrote on his Facebook page: "We need to work together as a community to minimise the risk of any spread of Zika in Singapore and take immediate steps to prevent mosquito breeding in our homes by doing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout every alternate day, and protect ourselves from mosquito bites by applying insect repellent regularly.
"The patient is currently well and recovering and will be discharged when tested negative for the Zika virus. I wish him a speedy recovery."
"CHALLENGING" TO STOP ZIKA FROM SPREADING TO SINGAPORE
The Zika virus has been spreading widely through South America, in particular Brazil, where the virus was first linked with babies being born with microcephaly – abnormally small skulls and underdeveloped brains. On Feb 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a global health emergency that needed a coordinated response.
There have been no reports of outbreaks in Asia, although sporadic cases of local Zika infection have been detected in several countries in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand previously. On Jan 19, Taiwan reported an imported case of Zika from Thailand; South Korea reported its first imported case on Mar 21; and Vietnam, its first infections on Apr 5.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong warned in January that said it may be "challenging" to prevent the virus from spreading and eventually becoming entrenched in Singapore. Mr Gan said in Parliament that the presence of the Aedes mosquito vector here is one reason for his assessment, and that the mild, non-specific nature of the symptoms in most infected patients would also make surveillance difficult.
Zika was added to the list of legally notifiable infectious diseases on Jan 26, and all medical practitioners and diagnostic laboratories are required to notify MOH of suspected and confirmed cases of Zika virus infection within 24 hours.
MOH also said in early February that it would set up a clinical advisory group on the Zika virus to provide expert advice on the management of pregnant women with Zika. Other precautionary measures were stepped up as well, including sending circulars to doctors and health advisories to travellers to and from Zika-affected countries.
On Feb 29, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor told Parliament that MOH and NEA would introduce more measures to tackle Zika. She said MOH would expand Zika virus testing capability to more public hospital laboratories, while NEA would step up the testing of blood samples for Zika from patients with fever, rashes and suspected dengue.
There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika yet. Drugmakers are scrambling to develop a safe and effective vaccine for Zika, but the WHO has said it would take at least 18 months to start large-scale clinical trials.