Zika virus 'likely to reach S'pore, so mosquito control vital'

Yesterday's seminar at ITE College Central is the first time that the PA has held an event to teach Singaporeans about the Zika virus.
Yesterday's seminar at ITE College Central is the first time that the PA has held an event to teach Singaporeans about the Zika virus. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Local travel patterns make it "almost inevitable" that the Zika virus will find its way here, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor yesterday.

This is because Singapore plays host to many foreign visitors and residents travel abroad frequently, making imported Zika cases likely.

"While we have instituted measures to tackle the Zika threat, it is also critical for the community... to play an active role in preventing the breeding of mosquitoes," said Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health.

The Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, which also transmits dengue. Cases have been reported in neighbouring countries, including the Philippines, Thailand and East Malaysia. Two weeks ago, Vietnam reported its first two cases of the virus.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed last week a definite link between Zika and infants born with microcephaly, or abnormally small brains.

Speaking to around 500 women at a seminar organised by the People's Association (PA), Dr Khor said that with the proven link between Zika infections and microcephaly in babies, pregnant women will be "particularly concerned" if the virus becomes entrenched here.

It is the first time that the PA has organised a grassroots event focusing on Zika.

At yesterday's seminar, participants learnt about the origins and effects of the Zika virus from Dr Ng Wee Tong, an occupational medicine specialist with ST Healthcare.

"It belongs to the same virus family as dengue," he said. "And like dengue, people can get bitten but have no symptoms at all."

Zika infections can appear very similar to dengue infections, as both share similar symptoms, such as rashes, headaches and muscle pains. But those infected by the Zika virus also tend to have conjunctivitis, more commonly known as red eyes. Anyone who shows these symptoms should see a doctor immediately.

In February, the National Environment Agency announced that it was stepping up efforts to stamp out the Aedes mosquito. These include training more than 5,000 grassroots volunteers to educate residents on preventing mosquito breeding, and deploying another 20,000 mosquito traps by June.

Former nurse Alice Goh, who attended the seminar, said she felt that people need to take the Zika threat more seriously. She has two daughters, both of whom are of child-bearing age.

"People tend to think that it's so far away and it won't come here, but we have to be very alert and aware," the 68-year-old said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2016, with the headline 'Zika virus 'likely to reach S'pore, so mosquito control vital''. Subscribe