Singapore steps up fight against Zika virus

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Four people returning from travel abroad have tested positive in New York state for the Zika virus, the mosquito-borne virus linked to birth defects in Latin America, while researchers plan to deploy a modified male mosquito that could render the females infertile.
Female Aedes adult mosquitoes at the insectary at Duke-NUS. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The Ministry of Health and National Environment Agency (NEA) will be introducing measures to guard against the Zika virus taking hold here.

Although there have been no detected cases in Singapore, the agencies said in a statement yesterday that it was "inevitable" there would be cases imported into Singapore, given the presence of the mosquito-borne disease in the region and the volume of travel by Singaporeans as well as tourists.

"There is a high risk of subsequent local transmission, as the Aedes mosquito vector is present here. As such, the virus may become endemic in Singapore," the statement said.

The agencies said measures include putting up health posters at airports for travellers, raising awareness of the virus in the medical community, and admitting anyone confirmed to have the disease into a single room at the hospital.

These steps will reduce the risk of the virus being imported, facilitate early detection of cases, and contain the spread of infection in the event it happens here, the agencies said.

Linked to thousands of cases of babies being born with underdeveloped brains, the Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, the same vector for the dengue and chikungunya viruses.

In South-east Asia, sporadic cases have been detected in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, East Malaysia and Thailand in recent years.

Currently, it is spreading across South America, with Brazil reporting a massive outbreak, estimated at over one million infections last year.

The authorities have advised returning travellers from affected areas to seek medical attention if they develop symptoms of Zika such as fever, skin rash, joint and muscle pain, headache and red eyes.

The statement also said the NEA, which has conducted surveillance on the virus since 2013, will step up intensive vector control with the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force. NEA's chief executive leads the task force, which comprises 27 government agencies and private associations.

Vector control remains the "mainstay to prevent transmission of the Zika virus", the statement said.

Infectious disease expert Leong Hoe Nam of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital said 90 per cent of patients do not exhibit symptoms of the virus, making cases hard to catch.

"The fight against Zika should be taken to a higher level than the one against dengue. We are fighting against an invisible enemy," he said.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline Singapore steps up fight against Zika virus. Subscribe