Zika outbreak: No real reason to delay having children, say doctors

A worker fogging a playground in Singapore on Sept 1, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

To wait or not - this question is on the minds of couples planning to have a child after the spread of Zika to several areas in Singapore.

The advice from doctors is that there is no real reason to delay, since it seems unlikely the virus will be eliminated from these shores.

Instead, those planning parenthood should accept that this is likely to be the "new normal" and take precautions against being bitten by the Aedes mosquito - which spreads Zika - and make sure their homes are mosquito-free.

"The transmission vector is a mosquito which is endemic in Singapore. You might want to delay pregnancy but when do you think Zika is going away?" said Dr Christopher Ng of GynaeMD Women's and Rejuvenation Clinic.

The same point was made by infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital: "If we can't clear the Zika cases in the next few weeks, chances are that it will stay rooted in Singapore. But life must go on."

While a Zika infection is typically mild, with symptoms of fever and rash along with others such as sore eyes and joint ache, it can have serious effects on unborn children. Pregnant women who catch the disease may give birth to babies with unusually small heads - and this could lead to developmental problems.

Said massage therapist Suhailah A. Samin, who has two sons: "We were planning for a third child but decided not to have more kids during this Zika period. We're afraid we may not be able to cope with the pregnancy and will suffer... more worries with all the 'what-ifs'."

Other couples, however, are taking any risk in their stride.

"We are no longer young," said renovator Sky Yong, 41.

Both he and his wife, finance manager Ashley Low, 39, work fairly near Aljunied, where the first cluster of local Zika transmission was detected.

"We love children... Zika, Aids, whatever virus is out there, we will still go for it. We can't live controlled by fear," added Mr Yong.

Housewife Christina Chong, 36, and her husband, lab officer Ong Wai Chung, 37, are also undeterred. "We have been waiting for so long, planning for two or three years, before the virus came along. We are just avoiding the affected areas but there's nothing much you can do."

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division, said it is natural for prospective parents to be concerned. She encouraged them to find out more about the disease and its potential health risks, and speak to doctors if necessary.

"I hope they are not overly deterred because, as with dengue and chikungunya, we have to deal with Zika through taking regular precautions such as using mosquito repellents when going outdoors and looking out for symptoms," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2016, with the headline Zika outbreak: No real reason to delay having children, say doctors. Subscribe