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Singapore steps up Zika fight after 41 local cases confirmed

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(Bloomberg) — Singapore has stepped up its fight against the Zika virus after confirming 41 locally transmitted cases one day after reporting its first infection.

The Ministry of Health said it will continue to screen people who had close contact with those infected. Of the 41 people who contracted the virus in Singapore, 34 have fully recovered, the ministry said, with the majority of cases occurring among foreign construction workers.

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“Given that the Zika virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito vector, MOH cannot rule out further community transmission in Singapore, since some of those who tested positive also live or work in other parts of Singapore,” the ministry said in a Monday statement. It listed seven other “areas of concern” where some of those already infected live.

The National Environment Agency said in the same statement it has intensified efforts to control the Aedes mosquito population, with more than 200 officers inspecting affected areas.

The Zika spread in Singapore highlights the threat of infection across Asia. Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have reported cases that were either transmitted locally or brought into the country, according to the Singapore ministry.

The Zika virus has been documented in several Asian countries since it first emerged in 1951, including Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan, prior to the Brazilian outbreak, said Raina MacIntyre, head of the school of public health and community medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

It is possible Zika has been present in Singapore in the past, but not tested for, MacIntyre said via e-mail. “Testing of mosquitoes in Singapore will be important,” she said, adding that “local transmission in Singapore also raises the threat of more widespread transmission within Asia.”

Malaysia’s Deputy Health Minister Hilmi Yahaya said Monday that his country was beefing up screening at two entry points along its border with Singapore after it was reported that a Malaysian woman in Singapore had been infected with Zika virus, Malaysia’s New Straits Times reported, with similar measures being implemented at airports.

While most Zika cases are mild or symptom-free, women infected during pregnancy are at increased risk of giving birth to babies with abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly. Going forward, mosquito control and prevention of mosquito bites will be key, as well as protection of pregnant women, added MacIntyre, the infectious disease epidemiology professor.

The Singapore government announced the jump from one case to 41 cases within a day. On its website, the government said the additional cases were identified after its health ministry conducted active testing of potentially infected past patients.


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