Asia-Pacific News

Malaysia confirms its first Zika case as Singapore's total cases rise to 115

Zika virus spreading in Southeast Asia

The outbreak of the Zika virus spread in Southeast Asia Thursday, after Singapore noted that total cases had risen to 115 while Malaysia confirmed that its first reported case was a woman who had traveled to the neighboring city-state.

The woman was diagnosed with Zika after she experienced rash and a fever for a week after her Singapore trip, Malaysia's Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam told Reuters.

The woman's child, who is in Singapore, and four other Malaysian nationals also tested positive for the virus, Reuters reported.

Malaysia, which shares a border with Singapore, has been taking precautionary measures since Monday such as scanning people to detect fever at major entry points and various airports, The Straits Times reported.

Singapore also announced late Wednesday its first case of a pregnant woman testing positive for locally-transmitted Zika virus, as a potential new infection cluster emerged.

Pest control workers fumigate the drainage at a Macpherson housing estate in Singapore on August 31, 2016.
Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

The pregnant woman lived in the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive area, the first reported infection cluster, according to a joint statement by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA).

She will have a maternal-fetal medicine specialist's counselling and advice, the agencies said, while her doctor will closely monitoring both her health and her baby's development.

Meanwhile, a new group of infections were identified in Bedok North Avenue Three, east of the previously affected areas.

A further 33 locally-transmitted Zika cases were found, raising the total number of infections to 115. Nine of the new cases were detected as a result of the MOH's back-testing of patients who had shown signs of Zika symptoms.

India's foreign ministry confirmed that 13 Indian nationals were among those tested positive for Zika, while six Bangladeshi nationals diagnosed with the virus was confirmed by Bangladesh's foreign ministry, Reuters said.

The Chinese embassy in Singapore was informed that 21 Chinese nationals residing in the city-state had been affected by the Zika virus, China's Foreign Ministry told Reuters on Thursday.

Any disease outbreaks in Singapore, which has a tight system for containing disease, shows how difficult the disease is to control, Thomas Frieden, director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a Thursday NBC report.

The foreign ministry added that the 21 Chinese nationals' health was not under threat, and some had already recovered, Reuters reported.

"Over time, we expect Zika cases to emerge from more areas," Gan Kim Yong, Singapore's Minister for Health, said in the official statement. "We must work and plan on the basis that there is Zika transmission in other parts of Singapore and extend our vector control efforts beyond the current affected areas.

Vector control, which includes methods to eliminate mosquitoes and prevent breeding, remains the primary solution to contain the spread of the Zika virus, Masagos Zulkifli, Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said in the statement.

More than 300 people have been deployed to carry out vector control and public outreach operations, the NEA said.

The NEA has also urged all residents to prevent mosquito breeding in their own homes.

There is currently no cure or vaccine to prevent Zika virus and treatments are focused on relieving symptoms.

The virus is transmitted mainly by Aedes mosquitoes, and has been linked to microcephaly and other birth defects, according to the World Health Organization.

The Zika virus has also been linked to the Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, Reuters reported on Thursday. A comparison study of Guillain-Barre syndrome rates before and after Zika arrived in seven countries showed strong associations, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) researchers told Reuters.

The Brazilian state Bahia, which was hit hard by the Zika outbreak, saw a 172 percent increase in Guillain-Barre cases, while Venezuela saw a 877 percent increase compared to pre-Zika rates, the PAHO findings showed.

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