Clear up misunderstandings

As a general practitioner, I have encountered patients who have many misunderstandings regarding the outbreak of Zika virus infections.

I am concerned about this. There is a need to dispel these misunderstandings, as they contribute to much anxiety and panic in the community.

I have patients who think the infection is spread by close contact in crowded areas, because the authorities have "quarantined" infected patients.

Some patients who work in the infected areas are anxious, thinking that the infection is life-threatening and that the situation is as bad as during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak.

In effect, the Zika virus infection is less serious than dengue.

Oftentimes, patients may be infected without many symptoms - fever may even be absent. Complications like temporary paralysis occur only in one or two out of about 10,000 cases.

What is important is the complications that can affect pregnant women and their unborn babies.

There have been reports of congenital malformations in babies born to infected mothers.

However, this does not occur in all babies, and is almost absent in women infected in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Zika is transmitted by bites from infected mosquitoes, and is also reported to be passed on through sex.

Hence, pregnant women should avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and practise safe sex, such as having their partners use condoms, or refrain from sex during their pregnancy.

This virus infection may be endemic locally, but it does not mean that women should not plan to be pregnant from now on.

What is essential is to be vigilant and careful, and to avoid becoming infected during pregnancy or if pregnancy is planned.

Patients should not rush for tests if they do not have the typical symptoms of this infection.

This will overload our laboratories and cause unnecessary stress to the healthcare sector.

What is paramount is to prevent mosquito breeding, and all Singaporeans have a part to play in this effort.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Clear up misunderstandings'. Print Edition | Subscribe