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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Confirmed another 15 new cases of Zika virus in Singapore

SINGAPORE - Authorities in Singapore said they have identified more than a dozen additional Zika virus infections that were transmitted locally, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 56.

In a statement late Monday, Singapore’s health ministry and the National Environment Agency said 15 more cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed in the country, with two of the infected people having already recovered.

The new cases identified are in the same Aljunied and Sims Drive area in the southeast of the island, where authorities had previously identified 41 cases of Zika virus infection. Most of the infected are foreign construction laborers who work in the same area.

The statement said some of the new cases were the result of the health ministry’s “look-back” and testing of potentially infected persons.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health completed testing all workers at the construction site who previously had symptoms of fever and rash. It said officials are also screening workers staying at dormitories located in the areas of concern.

“The look-back exercise will likely uncover more previously undiagnosed cases of Zika,” the statement said.

The Singapore cases appear to be the largest single beachhead that the Zika virus has made in Asia during the current epidemic. The tropical island state is prone to other mosquito-borne diseases, notably dengue fever, which, like the Zika virus, is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Health authorities warned earlier this year that Singapore could see a record 30,000 cases of dengue fever this year.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency has deployed more than 200 people to the affected area, where they sprayed insecticide and cleaned drains.

On Sunday, the authorities said that none of those infected, including four Singaporeans from the same neighborhood, had traveled abroad recently to areas affected by the Zika virus. Authorities concluded the people were likely infected in Singapore, and warned of more such cases since some of those who tested positive also live or work in other parts of Singapore.

Since being detected in Brazil last year, the mosquito-borne Zika virus has made inroads across the Americas, including parts of the U.S. Last week, China said it added the U.S. to a list of Zika-infected countries. That worries U.S. exporters, who fear they will be required to fumigate containers destined for Chinese ports.

The virus has been detected in several Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to the World Health Organization. The virus, which can be transmitted sexually and through blood, increases the risk of birth defects among children born to infected mothers. The potential defects include microcephaly, a rare condition in which the head is significantly smaller than usual and which often is associated with incomplete development of the brain.

Separately, Australia and Taiwan issued travel alerts to its citizens heading to Singapore. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said on their respective websites that pregnant women should defer nonessential travel to Singapore and adopt additional measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites. “There is ongoing transmission of Zika virus in Singapore. All travelers should protect themselves from mosquito bite,” Australia’s foreign affairs and trade department said.

There were no signs of panic among the Singapore residents. “This is not a life-threatening thing like SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome]. I am not worried,” says Ong Kah Liong, a 63-year-old cabdriver who resides in the eastern part of Singapore. Mr. Ong said that because Singapore is a small place it is easy to monitor the spread of the virus and that authorities have the means to trace the cases.

Singapore said that as of Aug. 28, the National Environment Agency had inspected about 3,600 out of an estimated 6,000 premises in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster to check for mosquito breeding, and conducted ground checks in the vicinity. It said about 36 breeding habitats—comprising 22 homes and 14 common areas and other premises—have been detected and destroyed.

Singapore said that the National Environment Agency has also commenced operations in areas of concern, and that thermal fogging, misting and indoor spraying of insecticides have been carried out in certain areas.

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