Zika spreads to Bedok; first mum-to-be hit by virus

Woman lives in initial Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive cluster; number of cases rises to 115

MOH also identified another potential Zika cluster at Bedok North Avenue 3, on Aug 31, 2016. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

There was a double dose of bad news on the Zika front yesterday, as the outbreak potentially spread to another cluster - in Bedok North - while, elsewhere, a pregnant woman was infected by the virus.

The expectant mother lives in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area. A member of her household had earlier been diagnosed positive for the virus. Zika poses the greatest danger to pregnant women as it can potentially harm their unborn children.

Just four days after the first locally transmitted case emerged on the island, it appears that the virus has quietly spread its tentacles.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed yesterday that a new potential cluster had emerged in Bedok North Avenue 3, where three previously reported cases live.

One of them works in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive area, which was the first cluster to be identified. The other two had no known links to that area.

Joo Seng Road and Punggol also find themselves on Singapore's Zika map; among the additional 24 cases revealed yesterday, there was one resident each from both areas.

This brings the total to 115 Zika cases in Singapore to date.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "Over time, we expect Zika cases to emerge from more areas. We must work and plan on the basis that there is Zika transmission in other parts of Singapore and extend our vector control efforts beyond the current affected areas."

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is launching its vector control operations in Bedok North Avenue 3, an area with 6,000 premises. It will do pre-emptive checks in areas assessed to be high risk, even if there are no known cases.

NEA has already been deploying 300 personnel each day in its war on mosquitoes in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area, which is home to the expectant mother who found out yesterday that she had been infected.

She had suffered "mild symptoms" and has been taken to KK Women's and Children's Hos- pital.

"She is generally well, quite well," said Mr Derrick Heng, group director of public health at MOH, at a joint briefing by the ministry and NEA late last night.

The woman's identity, race and nationality were not disclosed.

But while the six-member panel was careful not to specify which stage of the pregnancy she is at, it appears that she is in her first two trimesters.

Zika afflicts most severely unborn babies whose mothers are in the first trimester and early part of the second trimester of pregnancy. Some of these babies could suffer from a condition known as microcephaly, that is, an abnormally small head. The risk of this ranges between 1 per cent and 13 per cent.

"Her doctor is following up closely with her to monitor her health and the development of her baby," said the ministry. The woman will be referred to a maternal-foetal medicine specialist for counselling.

If scans suggest that an unborn child has been harmed by the virus, abortion is a possibility if the mother is less than 24 weeks pregnant, said Professor Arijit Biswas, who chairs Singapore's Zika Clinical Advisory Group.

Whether or not to terminate the pregnancy is "a very personal decision", he added.

Looking ahead, there will be "very close monitoring of the foetus", said Mr Heng. Scans will be conducted, but even so, the results may not be clear. "If the scans are totally normal, I think all is well. If the scans are very abnormal, then I think the result is clear.

"But sometimes there will be borderline cases and I think that's where there will be very difficult decisions."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline Zika spreads to Bedok; first mum-to-be hit by virus. Subscribe