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Singapore Urges Tests for Pregnant Women with Zika Signs | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A medical researcher works on results of tests for preventing the spread of the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases at the Gorgas Memorial institute for Health Studies laboratory in Panama City. Reuters

Singapore urged pregnant women showing symptoms of fever or rashes to have themselves tested for the Zika virus Wednesday after the number of confirmed cases in the city-state soared to 82.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has caused explosive outbreaks in the Americas and the Caribbean since late last year, poses a particular risk to pregnant women because it can cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

The United States and Britain joined Australia, South Korea and Taiwan in advising pregnant women to avoid non-essential travel to the city-state, while a local health expert warned the infection rate would rise.

Environment agency workers stepped up efforts to eradicate mosquitoes that spread the disease, expanding a fumigation campaign centered on the “ground zero” of the outbreak, the eastern suburb of Aljunied.

As infections climbed, they blasted an industrial area at Kallang Way to destroy breeding sites fueling the outbreak.

Another nearby area — Paya Lebar Way — was also smothered with insecticide.

Five of the latest infections reported Tuesday were of people who live or work in those two areas.

Zika has been detected in 58 countries including hardest-hit Brazil. It causes only mild symptoms for most people, such as fever and a rash.

The health ministry said that “all pregnant women in Singapore with symptoms of Zika — fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain” should be tested for infection.

Pregnant women with male partners who have been tested positive were also told to visit their doctors.

Construction workers in the affected areas have been given mosquito-repellent patches, chewable Vitamin C tablets and removable sleeves to cover their arms. Many of those infected were construction workers at a condominium project.

Since Singapore reported its first locally transmitted Zika infection on Saturday, confirmed cases have soared as authorities ramped up testing.

Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist at Singapore’s Mouth Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said the number is likely to rise further.

“There are very few mosquitos carrying the Zika virus but you must remember (that) for every one Zika case found, four more are asymptomatic,” he told AFP.

“So now we have 82 cases, you multiply that by four, there are 328 cases lurking in the background.”

But he said Singaporean authorities — who spend some Sg$1.0 million ($733,000) a day on exterminating mosquitoes — were in a good position to deal with the outbreak.

“We have a very determined government with the funds… and a rather obedient population,” he said. “When told to stay home, people do stay home and follow instructions.”