Authorities probing surge of gastroenteritis patients at Owen Road

More than 180 cases have been reported, and many had patronised the Pek Kio Market and Food Centre.
Channel NewsAsia 24 May 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA), Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and PUB, Singapore’s national water agency (PUB) are investigating a surge of patients with gastroenteritis in the Owen Road area, they announced on Tuesday (May 24).

As of May 23, more than 180 cases have been reported, the agencies said in a joint press release. Investigation into the possible source has not concluded; however, as a precautionary measure, NEA will close Pek Kio Market and Food Centre for a thorough cleaning and disinfection from May 25 and 26. The market will re-open on May 27.

On May 19, MOH was alerted by a general practitioner at Owen Road that the clinic had seen an unusual increase in the number of cases of gastroenteritis since May 16. Further investigations found that other clinics in the area had experienced a similar increase. In all, more than 180 cases had sought medical treatment for symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain in the past week. The cases typically recovered within a few days. There were seven patients who are warded at Tan Tock Seng Hospital for observation. All of them are recovering well, the agencies said.

One of the gastroenteritis patients told Channel NewsAsia she had patronised the ‘tze char’ stall at a coffeeshop, as well as the vegetarian and bee hoon stalls at Pek Kio food centre last Monday and Tuesday.

The woman, who declined to be named, said she soon developed a fever and started vomiting on Tuesday, which led her to visit Cheong Clinic at Owen Road in the evening.

She said her stomach flu worsened and had to make another trip to the clinic a few days later. By then, the clinic had informed the Ministry of Health (MOH).

“MOH reacted really quickly. I’m very pleased with their efficiency,” she said, adding that officers contacted her to find out what food she had consumed or bought in the neighbourhood.

The resident who has called the Owen Road area home for more than 20 years, also said her neighbours saw MOH officers collecting samples from all food stalls at Pek Kio food centre.

NEA, MOH, AVA and PUB said they had commenced investigations into the cause of the cases immediately on May 19, including collecting food and environmental samples from food outlets in the Owen Road area, as well as interviewing affected cases and screening stool samples from the affected cases. Their investigations found that the majority of the cases stayed near or visited the Owen Road area.

Many of them had also patronised the Pek Kio Market and Food Centre, although the investigations did not identify any specific food stall that could be the source of the reported cases.

Stool samples collected from cases tested positive for Rotavirus, commonly known as gastric flu.

In an update on Tuesday evening, PUB said it had conducted water quality tests on water samples collected from the tap points in the Pek Kio Market and Food Centre and the surrounding blocks, as well as from PUB watermains. It found that the water from these sources met WHO guidelines for drinking water safety.

The water agency said it was involved in investigations as part of "standard operating procedures".

During the period of closure, stallholders and Tanjong Pagar Town Council’s cleaning contractor will conduct a thorough cleaning of the centre as follows:

• Cleaning of all utensils (i.e. plates, bowls, cutlery) with food-grade disinfectants;
• Disinfection of all dining tables and chairs, food preparation surfaces, walls and floors; and
• Disinfection of the public toilets, including all toilet fixtures such as taps, door handles and wash basins.

MOH and NEA said they briefed the stallholders on Tuesday afternoon on the details of the cleaning and disinfection work. NEA will also be issuing advisories to other stakeholders in the area to remind all premises owners to maintain high hygiene standards of public contact surfaces.

- CNA/ly


'Never seen such a massive number of cases': Doctor who alerted MOH about gastroenteritis outbreak
Dr Angela Cheong, a GP at Cheong Clinic along Owen Road, says that throughout her 20 years of practice, she has not seen such a "massive number of cases" of patients with gastroenteritis in a day.
Liyana Othman and Xabryna Kek Channel NewsAsia 26 May 16;

SINGAPORE: After a tip-off by a general practitioner (GP) that her clinic had seen an unusual increase in the number of cases of gastroenteritis since May 16, the Ministry of Health (MOH), together with other agencies, began investigating the surge of patients with gastroenteritis in the Owen Road area.

Dr Angela Cheong, a general practitioner at Cheong Clinic along Owen Road, said that she saw around 30 patients a day at the start of last week - three times more than usual.

"Last Monday when I came to work, I realised that I had a lot of patients with stomach flu symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and high fever,” she said. “By the end of Monday, I had seen like 30 patients with abdominal symptoms.”

Assuming that it was just a Monday after the weekend, she realised that it was no ordinary flu as the days went on into the week. “I've never, as a GP for 20 years in this area, seen such a massive number of cases in one day, two days, in a week for that matter,” said Dr Cheong.

She added that entire families were affected, patients also took longer to recover and there were more patients who made return visits.

"I had to give everything that I had in my arsenal for these patients. In the initial two days, before I realised it was so bad, the medicines were milder. But then when I realised they were coming back and not getting better, I knew I was dealing with something malevolent, so I had to add other medications to stop the symptoms", said Dr Cheong.

However, she noted that the number of cases has gone down this week. "I think people are now more aware that there's a virus going around,” she said. “Maybe they're more careful with their hygiene. They're washing their hands after they go to the toilet or after eating.”

Dr Cheong also said she reminded her patients to make sure that they clean up their homes and disinfect the homes after their family members have recovered. “I think maybe the virus has been stopped in its tracks," she added.

More than 180 cases of gastroenteritis were reported as of Monday and many of them said they had visited Pek Kio Market and Food Centre.

One of the patients told Channel NewsAsia she had patronised the "tze char" stall at a coffeeshop, as well as the vegetarian and bee hoon stalls at Pek Kio food centre last Monday and Tuesday.

The woman, who declined to be named, said she soon developed a fever and started vomiting on Tuesday, which led her to visit the Cheong Clinic in the evening.

She said her stomach flu worsened and she had to make another trip to the clinic a few days later. By then, the clinic had informed MOH.

“MOH reacted really quickly. I’m very pleased with their efficiency,” she said, adding that officers contacted her to find out what food she had consumed or bought in the neighbourhood.

The resident, who has called the Owen Road area home for more than 20 years, also said her neighbours saw MOH officers collecting samples from all food stalls at Pek Kio food centre.

Cleaning and disinfection work also began at the food centre on Wednesday, as part of the authorities' precautionary measures in response to the anomaly. Cleaners and business owners will thoroughly clean their premises and the food centre is set to reopen on Friday.

- CNA/xk

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