Zika in Singapore

Pregnant mums taking no chances

Ms Siti Nuraini Roslan shows the products she has purchased which are supposed to be able to repel mosquitoes.
Ms Siti Nuraini Roslan shows the products she has purchased which are supposed to be able to repel mosquitoes.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SITI NURAINI ROSLAN
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean distributing fliers on mosquito prevention and Zika yesterday during a walkabout at Pasir Ris West Plaza.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean distributing fliers on mosquito prevention and Zika yesterday during a walkabout at Pasir Ris West Plaza.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

They cover themselves up, stay home, buy repellent, and even make their own repellents

Wearing a winter coat in the Singapore heat, Ms Hazel Chia cuts a strange figure in her Yishun neighbourhood, attracting stares from passers-by.

But just nine weeks into her first pregnancy, the 28-year-old was not taking any chances with the mosquito-borne Zika virus. "I was wrapped up like an Eskimo," she told The Sunday Times. "People were looking at me, but I was just paranoid."

The private school teacher has decided to stop work until the end of the year and no longer frequents her regular breakfast haunt at Yishun Street 81 because someone living there has Zika.

Hers is not the only life that has changed since the Health Ministry announced on Aug 27 that the Zika virus is here, seemingly for good. It was reported then that Singapore had its first case of locally transmitted Zika virus infection.

Despite the World Health Organisation complimenting Singapore for being a "role model" in the way it is handling the outbreak, many people remain worried - none more so than pregnant women, of which there are more than 28,000 at any one time. The disease is known to cause abnormally small heads to develop in babies born to women infected during pregnancy.

It was enough to make mother- to-be Christine Koh, 31, spend almost $1,000 on mosquito patches, repellents and air diffusers, though she lives in Telok Kurau, which has no known Zika infections. The housewife also bought high-tech traps that emit heat like that of humans to lure and catch mosquitoes.

Ms Koh, who is four months' pregnant, uses three types of repellent and makes sure there is no stagnant water in the house.

Ms Siti Nuraini Roslan, who has two sons, is 17 weeks pregnant with her third child. She has placed fragrant lemongrass sticks around her doors and windows and purchased a range of other products supposed to repel the insects. She lives in Punggol near someone who tested positive for Zika. The news has made her sick with worry.

"I am trying to stay indoors," said the 31-year-old financial services ambassador. "It's scary and I am becoming paranoid. I hope all my neighbours will be responsible and clear all stagnant water regularly."

Doctors have urged the public to stay calm, not let the outbreak interfere with normal life and take the necessary precautions: wear long-sleeved light-coloured clothes, use insect repellent and sleep under a mosquito net.

Mosquito patches and other modern repelling products have "mixed results", according to Mr Eugene Surendra, technical director of Pestbusters pest control company.

"Nothing comes close to Deet. It is by far the best repellent," he said. The Health Ministry has said that all insect repellents sold here are safe for pregnant women to use.

But still, sceptical mums-to-be have been erring on the side of caution and turning to oils, which they believe to be mild but effective.

Ms Nina Chua, 26, who is eight months' pregnant, started making her own repellent - a blend of seven oils - more than a year ago.

She was selling around 15 of her $18 30ml jars a day before news of Zika broke. After that, she sold 200 in six days and now makes them between 12am and 5am while her daughter sleeps."The thought of another mother who needs it makes me work hard," she said.

Based on data from the outbreak in Latin America, Imperial College London researchers have estimated that the Zika outbreak is likely to end within three years. This is because the virus could run out of targets as "herd immunity" is established. This is when many people have been bitten and then become immune.

Dr Chua Yang, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at A Clinic for Women, Mount Alvernia Hospital, said: "Once herd immunity is strong because many people have been bitten and have recovered, local outbreaks may fade out, so women can safely become pregnant again."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Pregnant mums taking no chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe