Zika at Simon Place: Couple's first thought was about alerting pregnant neighbours

Simon Place being fumigated yesterday. The NEA has inspected 234 out of 400 premises in the area and destroyed 10 breeding grounds, after a Zika cluster was reported there.
Simon Place being fumigated yesterday. The NEA has inspected 234 out of 400 premises in the area and destroyed 10 breeding grounds, after a Zika cluster was reported there.ST PHOTO: DON WONG

When Simon Place residents Madam Yeoh and Mr Lim were told they had Zika on Tuesday, their first thought was about their neighbours. "I know there are two pregnant mothers living nearby and I didn't want them to be in any danger," said Madam Yeoh.

The positive Zika diagnosis for her and her husband, who live in a four-storey terraced house in Kovan, meant they formed a Zika cluster - the first of the year.

By yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) had inspected 234 out of 400 premises in the area and destroyed 10 breeding grounds. The vicinity was also fogged to help kill the Aedes mosquitoes which spread both dengue and Zika, which results in mild cold-like symptoms but can be dangerous for unborn foetuses.

That is why Madam Yeoh, 42, and her husband, Mr Lim, 48 - who wanted to be identified only by their surnames - spent an hour knocking on doors to warn other residents they had contracted Zika. The first one they told was their pregnant next-door neighbour.

Madam Yeoh said: "We advised them to stay out for the next few days, which they did. I was also very touched that everyone was very kind and concerned about our health."

 

They had suspected either Zika or dengue when they developed rashes and a fever last week, given previous dengue outbreaks in the area.

They visited a 24-hour clinic in Hougang on March 23, and were advised to go for a blood test. They went for one at Outram Polyclinic. They were told the results would take about a week to be out.

The symptoms have now all gone, said Madam Yeoh, adding that her pregnant neighbour has also returned and visited her yesterday to wish her well.

The couple, who are both self-employed, had travelled to Japan in February for a holiday but are certain they had contracted the virus here. Their doctor had told them they were probably bitten around two weeks ago, after their trip.

"We could have been bitten while taking our two poodles for their daily walk around the neighbourhood," said Madam Yeoh.

NEA officers also came to check their home on Tuesday but did not find any signs of mosquito breeding, she added.

Some residents along Simon Place said mosquitoes have been a perennial problem.

Retiree Paramaes Govin, who lives in a terraced house, said that three people in her house had fallen ill from dengue over the 27 years she has lived there. "There is a bad mosquito problem here - the leaves and seeds from the trees fall and clog the gutters on the roof," said the 60-year-old.

Housewife Jessie Tan, 65, said her family gets pest control to spray their garden every two months, and "we don't open the windows at home".

Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim visited the area yesterday morning, and said there was no need for panic. "Residents living in this area are quite used to clusters of mosquito-borne diseases - in the last few years we have had dengue outbreaks, so they already know what to do and how to protect themselves."

Infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam of Mt Elizabeth Novena Hospital said the new cluster is not a cause for much alarm, as the two locally transmitted cases came from the same household.

There have also been just six other isolated cases of Zika infections this year, after the last cluster was closed in December. "The low number of cases tells us that we are doing a good job of controlling it," he said.

However, he added, more cases of both Zika and dengue are expected with the wetter and warmer conditions as June approaches - the peak season for mosquito breeding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'Zika: Couple's first thought was about alerting pregnant neighbours'. Print Edition | Subscribe