There are now a handful of cases reported in Singapore. Here’s what you need to know about the Zika virus, which has been relatively unknown – until now. By Esther Au Yong and Dawn Chen

The Zika virus can cause symptoms similar to dengue. (Photo: 123rf.com/Marcel Braendli)

What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus was first identified in 1947 in rhesus monkeys in Uganda, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It was identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus have been recorded in Africa, the Americas and in Asia. Like dengue, Zika is spread by the Aedes mosquito. Mozzies who bite an infected person can spread it to their next victims. Infected persons can also spread it to their partners as the disease has been proven to transmit sexually. 

What are the symptoms of a Zika infection?
Most people have no symptoms. Those who exeprience signs – a quarter of victims – usually have mild fever, rash, headaches, joint pain, a lack of energy and pink eye. Lasting two to seven days, the symptoms typically set in three to 12 days after being bitten. Zika doesn’t usually cause fatalities in adults and children.

Why worry then?
Doctors in Brazil, which is currently experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika, are worried because there have been an alarming rise in babies born with microcephaly, in which babies are born with small heads and incomplete brain development. As of August 25, new figures from the WHO show that over 1,800 babies have been diagnosed with microcephaly. To put this in perspective, Brazil usually records 100-200 microcephaly cases a year.

There is no cure for microcephaly and babies can die from it – at least 38 Brazillian babies have passed away. Although some children have normal intelligence and development, their heads remain small, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children with microcephaly might also suffer from, among others, facial distortions, developmental disabilities and seizures.

What is the treatment for a Zika infection?
The WHO says, “People sick with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines.” This means there is no specific treatment for the viral infection itself.

There is currently no vaccine for the Zika virus, but one is currently being developed. That said, don’t get your hopes up as the US National Institute of Health has said that “a safe and effective, fully licensed Zika vaccine will likely not be available for several years.”

Is the Zika virus in Singapore?
The first case of Zika virus in Singapore was first reported on August 27. A Malaysian-born woman living in Aljunied Crescent had tested positive for the disease. Since then, the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) has updated that there have been 41 cases of Zika virus reported locally. Of the 41, 34 have fully recovered. The other seven are still showing symptoms and are potentially infectious. They are recovering at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

(Also read: Warning: Dengue Cases on the Rise in Singapore!)

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