27 October 2016
Workers fumigate a housing estate in Singapore on Sunday. Photo: AFP
Workers fumigate a housing estate in Singapore on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Singapore confirms 41 cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus

Singapore has confirmed 41 cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus, mostly among foreign construction workers, and said it expected more cases to be identified.

All but seven of those infected have fully recovered, Reuters reports, citing a joint statement of the health ministry and the National Environment Agency on Sunday. Those seven remain in hospital.

On Saturday, authorities had confirmed a 47-year-old Malaysian woman living in southeastern Singapore as the city-state’s first case of a local transmission of the virus – which in Brazil has been linked to a rare birth defect.

The authorities said they tested 124 people, primarily foreign construction workers employed on a site in the same part of Singapore.

That site has been ordered to halt work, and workers’ dormitories are being inspected. Seventy-eight people tested negative and five cases were pending. Thirty-four patients had fully recovered.

Four Singaporean men had developed symptoms of the virus in the past week and were hospitalized on Saturday.

It was not clear where the foreign workers were from or when their cases were detected, Reuters said. Singapore hosts a large contingent of workers from the Asian sub-continent.

None of those infected had traveled recently to Zika-affected areas. “This confirms that local transmission of Zika virus infection has taken place,” the statement said.

In Hong Kong, health authorities on Thursday confirmed the city’s first case of Zika in a woman who had returned from holiday in the Caribbean, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

She has since recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Acting health secretary Sophia Chan said she could not exclude the possibility of further cases in the territory.

Singapore’s health ministry “cannot rule out further community transmission since some of those tested positive also live or work in other parts of Singapore”, the statement said. “We expect to identify more positive cases.”

Singapore, which maintains a constant vigil against the mosquito-borne dengue virus, reported its first case of the Zika virus in May, brought in by a middle-aged man who had been to Brazil.

Singapore deployed around 200 NEA officers to clean drains and spray insecticide in the mainly residential area early on Sunday to counter mosquito breeding grounds, and volunteers and contractors handed out leaflets and insect repellent.

Zika, carried by some mosquitoes, was detected in Brazil last year and has since spread across the Americas. The virus poses a risk to pregnant women because it can cause severe birth defects.

It has been linked in Brazil to more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly – where babies are born with small heads.

All medical services in Singapore had been alerted “to be extra vigilant” and immediately report any Zika-associated symptoms to the health ministry.

Local residents welcomed the NEA clean-up on Sunday.

Singapore said there were “ongoing local transmission” cases in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Other countries in the region to have detected the Zika virus since 2013 include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives and the Philippines, according to the World Health Organization.

Malaysia said on Sunday it stepped up surveillance at main transit points with Singapore – handing out leaflets on Zika prevention and having paramedics ready to handle visitors with potential symptoms of the virus.

In Thailand, where close to 100 cases of Zika have been recorded across 10 provinces this year, the Department of Disease Control (DDC) was screening athletes returning from the Olympic Games in Brazil, but was not otherwise changing its prevention measures.

Vietnam has to date reported three cases of locally-transmitted Zika infection.

The current strain of Zika sweeping through Latin America and the Caribbean originated in Asia, where people may have built up greater immunity.

The WHO has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

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