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Friday, September 2, 2016, 21:44

HK issues amber travel alert on Singapore

By Willa Wu

HONG KONG - The Security Bureau issued an amber travel alert for Singapore on Friday due to the mosquito-borne Zika outbreak in the city state. Pregnant women and those planning to get pregnant were advised not to travel to affected areas.

The amber alert indicates threats and the public should monitor the situation and exercise caution.

The number of infections of Zika virus in Singapore rose to 151, including 21 from the Chinese mainland and one Malaysian, less than one week since the first locally transmitted case was reported in this Southeast Asian country.

More than 351,000 Singaporeans visited Hong Kong from January to July in 2015, Hong Kong Tourism Board statistics show.

The Zika virus, known to be transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes or through sexual contact, has mild effects on most people, such as skin rash, joint pain and fever. Yet pregnant women who are infected may give birth to babies with microcephaly and other severe brain malformations.

The Hospital Authority (HA), after a regular meeting on Friday, decided to expand Zika virus blood tests to patients who showed symptoms but had not traveled to the affected areas.

The HA’s Chief Infection Control Officer Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong noted that previously doctors would order blood tests for suspected patients who not only showed the symptoms but had also traveled to affected areas.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health urged the public to adopt strict anti-mosquito measures and safe sex practices during travel.

According to the CHP, 72 countries and regions have reported mosquito-borne Zika transmission since 2007, and 11 have reported evidence of person-to-person transmission.

The center also noted that due to increased activity of the mosquitoes in warmer summer months in the northern hemisphere, the spread of Zika virus might be faster in July and August after showing a slowdown from April to June.

Hong Kong will continue the citywide intensive mosquito prevention campaign until October. Ten clinics under the HA have been reserved for residents who will return from trips to Brazil, where nearly 80,000 Zika infection cases have been confirmed and the estimated total in the country exceeds 170,000.

Jasper Chan Fuk-woo, a specialist in clinical microbiology and infection at the University of Hong Kong, said people in Hong Kong should not worry too much about the current situation. The government and hospitals were doing a proper job in mosquito prevention and quarantine inspections.

Chan urged the public to cooperate with the government on preventing locally transmitted cases. He says the chance of local cases will be small if people who travel to the affected areas stick to using mosquito repellent for two to three weeks after the trip.

A 38-year-old female foreign national living in Tseung Kwan O tested positive for Zika virus on Aug 25 after her trip to the Caribbean. She was discharged from the United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong on Aug 26 as she tested negative for the virus after her stay at the hospital.

willa@chinadaily hk.com

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