Singapore hit by first case of locally transmitted Zika virus infection

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes inside a laboratory. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - In the first case of locally-transmitted Zika infection here, a 47-year-old Malaysian woman living in Aljunied Crescent tested positive for the virus on Saturday (Aug 27) at the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The patient, who had not travelled to Zika-affected areas recently, had developed symptoms two days earlier and was referred to the CDC by a general practitioner the day after, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement. She is hospitalised but is recovering.

This is not the first case of Zika here. In May this year, a 48-year-old permanent resident was thought to have caught the virus on a business trip to Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The two agencies said that importation of the virus from overseas is inevitable given the high volume of travel to and from Singapore, and that local transmission is also possible given the presence of the Aedes mosquito that spreads the virus.

Furthermore, as many of the people infected with Zika do not show symptoms, some transmission may already have taken place before the latest case of Zika was identified.

MOH is screening the patient's close contacts, including household members.

Health minister Gan Kim Yong said: "MOH and NEA are working together to carry out vector control and testing of residents in that area with fever and rashes so as to reduce the risk of further spread. I encourage those who are unwell and with these symptoms to visit their doctors for medical attention. We have also alerted our clinics in the area to look out for suspect cases and refer them to the CDC for testing."

MOH added that, as a precaution, all suspected Zika cases will be isolated pending blood test results.

At this point, three other suspect cases - two in a family who live in the area and an individual who works in the area - have preliminarily tested positive based on their urine samples. They are pending further confirmation tests.

MOH has also alerted all general practitioners around the patient's home and workplace to be extra vigilant and immediately report patients with symptoms associated with Zika.

Meanwhile, the NEA has deployed about 100 officers to the vicinity of Aljunied Crescent for inspections of premises, mosquito-control measures such as misting and drain oiling, and distribution of Zika information leaflets.

The agency said it will also activate partner agencies of the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force to step up "search and destroy" efforts.

Singapore's Olympians, who had just returned from the Rio Games, were not troubled by the virus while they were training and competing in Brazil and they have been told to continue taking precautions.

Mr Low Teo Ping, chef de mission for Team Singapore at the Rio Olympics, said: "The athletes and officials of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Team Singapore contingent have returned to Singapore safe and symptom-free from Zika. We are keeping a close tab on the athletes and officials monitoring them for symptoms such as fever, skin rash, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, and joint pain for three weeks upon their return.

"We have also advised them to continue to apply insect repellent and wear long sleeved clothing where possible and to avoid travel to multiple places in a day. Any occurrence and non-occurrence of symptoms are updated to the team doctor daily."

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