Zika cases rise to 292 in Singapore; potential new cluster at Ubi Crescent

Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Nine new cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed on Thursday (Sep 8), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 292, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a joint statement.

The authorities added that there is a potential new cluster involving two previously reported cases and a new case, all of whom work in the Ubi Crescent area. One of the previously unlinked cases in the cluster was reported on Sep 7, and his work address was verified on Thursday.

Of the other new cases, authorities said four cases are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive/ Kallang Way/ Paya Lebar Way cluster; one is linked to the Bishan Street 12 cluster; and another case is linked to the Elite Terrace cluster.

The other two cases have no known links to any existing cluster.

NEA said it will be carrying out vector control operations and outreach efforts at the potential new cluster at Ubi Crescent.

The agency added that it is continuing with vector control operations and outreach efforts in the cluster areas at Aljunied Crescent / Sims Drive / Paya Lebar Way / Kallang Way / Circuit Road / Geylang East Central / Geylang East Avenue 1; Bedok North Avenue 2 / Bedok North Avenue 3 / Bedok North Street 3; Joo Seng Road; Bishan Street 12 and Elite Terrace in Siglap.

NEA said that as of Sep 7, a total of 166 breeding habitats have been found and destroyed in the cluster areas, of which 108 are from homes, and 58 from outdoor areas.

It added that updated information on Zika and details of current clusters are available on its website.

Earlier on Thursday, authorities said that analysis of two locally transmitted Zika cases showed that they were not recently imported from South America. Instead, the virus likely belongs to a strain circulating in Southeast Asia since the 1960s.

- CNA/dt

Zika strain in Singapore similar to ones in SE Asia since 1960s: MOH, A*STAR
Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The Zika virus strains found in the two locally transmitted cases from the Sims Drive-Aljunied Crescent cluster were not recently imported from South America. Rather, these strains have sequences similar to those which have been circulating in Southeast Asia since the 1960s, before they spread to French Polynesia in 2013 and subsequently to Brazil in 2015.

This analysis was according to the sequencing study conducted by the Ministry of Health's National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) and A*STAR's Bioinformatics Institute, with the findings revealed on Thursday (Sep 8).

“What we have demonstrated that is there are enough differences at the gene level to show that (the strain) is not imported from South America”, said Dr Raymond Lin, head of the NPHL, at a press briefing.

In terms of how severe the Southeast Asian strain is and whether it causes microcephaly – a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development – Dr Lin said there is currently no evidence to indicate that it is more or less severe than the South American strain.

“From what we see, the viruses are very similar. There might be fine differences, there might be more mutations but currently there is no evidence at all to suggest that it's less severe or more severe; whether there is less or more likelihood of getting microcephaly,” said Dr Lin.

“The correlation of virus strains with specific clinical manifestations will take long-term, careful epidemological studies as well as experimental studies in research laboratories,” he added.

Zika was first detected in a rhesus monkey living in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda, Africa. The infection was later identified in humans in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania in 1952, NPHL and A*STAR said at the briefing.

On how the findings would help develop a vaccine against the Zika virus, Dr Lin said: “If we know that a large part of it is very similar to the virus in other parts of the world, it’s important to know whether the vaccine developed in one part of the world can be used here.”

Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, Senior Principal Investigator of A*STAR's Bioinformatics Institute, said knowledge about the various strains could also help in future testing of vaccines and various treatment strategies.

“When we talk about the Asian version or the South American version – these viruses are still very similar. So it also means that our immune response will be quite similar to them. It has implications if someone develops a vaccine against the Brazilian strain, it should also work against the Southeast Asian version. So this also relates to natural immunity of people,” said Dr Maurer-Stroh.

But he also emphasised that more research needs to be done to understand the implications of the virus.

The findings will be made available on public databases for the benefit of the global scientific community, including the World Health Organisation.

Eight new cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed on Wednesday (Sep 7), bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Singapore to 283, according to MOH.

- CNA/kk

More research needed on how Zika spreads in Singapore and its effects
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Scientists here will conduct more clinical and epidemiological studies to see how the Zika virus spreads among the population and how it affects individuals, given that there is little research on the virus in the region.

This comes after they established that the strain of Zika virus that infected two patients in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster in Singapore is different from the one circulating in Brazil.

In the latest update at a press briefing on Thursday (Sept 8), researchers revealed that sequencing of the virus was done on three live Zika cases here: The patient who had travelled to Brazil before falling sick — the first imported infection detected here in May — and two from the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster.

They found that the strain of the imported case is similar to the strain found in South America, but for the two locally transmitted cases, they are similar to the Zika virus strain that has been circulating in South-east Asia since the 1960s. This was before the virus had spread to French Polynesia in 2013, and to Brazil later in 2015.

Associate Professor Raymond Lin, head of the Health Ministry’s National Public Health Lab, which did the sequencing with researchers from A*Star’s Bioinformatics Institute, said there is no answer right now on whether getting infected by a virus of the South American strain would cause a more severe condition compared with the Asian strain, or vice versa.

Pointing out that the virus strains are “very similar”, he added: “There might be fine differences, there might be more mutations, but there is no evidence at all currently to suggest that it’s less or more severe, or whether there’s less or more likelihood of (the babies of infected mothers) getting microcephaly (born with a small head) ... We need time and more studies to do that.

“In future we need to continue monitoring it so that we can see what’s the direction of the Zika virus epidemic, how it’s spreading across the region or not, or in Singapore, and how it changes with time.”

Work needs to be done with other researchers who have other skills, for example, so that they may study how the virus affects the immune system, among other things.

Knowing the range and distribution of virus strains would be useful in the future testing of vaccines — different vaccines may work for different strains — and in finding treatment strategies.

Assoc Prof Lin hopes that the continued sequencing work and surveillance will “keep us on our toes” in monitoring any changes. “We certainly hope that something we can identify has an impact on treatment or prevention,” he said.

The sequences done by researchers here will be made available on public databases to help track the global spread and evolution of the Zika virus.

Free insect repellent for pregnant women at all CCs from Saturday: PA
Today Online 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Pregnant women will be able to get insect repellent for free at all community clubs across the Republic from Saturday (Sept 10), the People’s Association (PA) said on Thursday (Sept 8).

The PA has 30,000 bottles of 30ml travel-sized insect repellents available for collection.

Each pregnant women can collect one bottle at any community club. She will need to show their maternity appointment card.

This comes amid news of a surge in demand for anti-mosquito products, following the Zika outbreak in Singapore.

One bottle can last for about three days of regular application by one person, and should “tide pregnant women over until the repellents are replenished at the retail stores”, added the PA.

PA's chief executive director Ang Hak Seng said: “While we have stepped up our efforts to rally the community to work together to eradicate Zika at source, we also wanted to do more for our mothers-to-be. We have quickly worked with the relevant agencies to secure insect repellents for them to help allay their immediate concerns.”

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