Health scare of the year: Zika arrives on Singapore shores

PHOTO: Reuters

Our tiny island was fraught with health scares in 2016, which saw some of our leaders taking ill, as well as several infectious outbreaks that sparked fear across the nation.

News that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat suffered a stroke during a Cabinet meeting in May shocked Singaporeans. The 55-year-old resumed light office duties in August, and is staying away from the crowds until he regains his immunity.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in ICU after suffering stroke

  • Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was discharged from Tan Tock Seng Hospital on June 25 after making an "excellent recovery" from a stroke.
  • According to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, the 54-year-old's stroke had been caused by an aneurysm, which is a localised weakening of a blood vessel.
  • The minister collapsed during a Cabinet meeting on the evening of May 12 and was taken to the hospital immediately.
  • It was later revealed that he had suffered a stroke.
  • In a Facebook post, Mr Heng said: "The last few weeks were the toughest of my life. I could get through this time because of the strong support from my family, great medical care, and the kindness from all of you".
  • He went on to thank his colleagues who helped him when he collapsed in Cabinet, the Singapore Civil Defence Force personnel who had aided him as well as the staff at the hospital.
  • Deputy Prime Minister Tharman and Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, religious leaders and guests pray for Mr Heng's recovery at IRO office.
  • Cards, flowers and gifts at the Heritage Museum at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

In August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave the audience and viewers at home a scare after faltering during his National Rally speech. Mr Lee, 64, had become unsteady due to prolonged standing, heat, and dehydration. He drew a standing ovation when he returned on stage to resume his speech.

PM Lee speaks at National Day Rally 2016

Singaporeans' civic-mindedness was also put to the test when the nation saw one of its worst hand, foot and mouth disease outbreaks this year, with nearly 40,000 cases reported as of December.

HFMD outbreak in Singapore

  • Singapore could be heading for one of its worst hand, foot and mouth disease outbreaks, with infections hitting near-record numbers over the past few months.
  • Associate Professor Chong Chia Yin, senior infectious disease consultant at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said "Most of these children were admitted for fever and poor feeding, mild dehydration or febrile fits due to their high fever. None suffered serious complications."
  • Symptoms of HFMD include fever, ulcers in the mouth and tongue, blisters on hand, feet and bum, poor appetite and lethargy.
  • A child can get dehydrated from not drinking enough because it hurts to do so.
  • The current epidemic has been fuelled in part by parents who send their sick kids to childcare centres, and refuse to take them home when asked to.
  • A mother documented her health scare after catching HFMD from her son
  • I saw a red spot on my palm. I ignored it. My attention was on my two-year-old, Conran, who was still recovering from HFMD and was cranky. A few days ago, he had a few red spots on his feet and palms, as well as mouth ulcers. He lost his appetite for two to three days.
  • Day 3: I woke up and discovered that my hands were covered with bulbous, freaky-looking sores. I couldn't open and clench my fist without wincing in pain. There were red spots on my feet, too. Every spot was itchy and I couldn't stop scratching.
  • My hands were so swollen; my skin was stretched taut. I had fluids pumped into me regularly to prevent dehydration, and I needed to relieve myself every hour.
  • Some blisters on my hands had ruptured, so the skin was peeling and very cracked. As my skin had thickened during the outbreak, when it peeled, it was stiff and sharp at the edges.
  • The skin on my hands peeled even more, with cracked skin hanging off my fingertips. Some large blisters on my right hand remained intact.
  • I said goodbye to the nurses at ward 1132 and I was given a three-week MC by the doctor. I had to be quarantined at home as the blisters on my hands were still not fully healed and contagious.
  • The skin on the soles of my feet started peeling. Then, HFMD unleashed its ugliest after-effects: I was losing my nails and hair!
  • Over time, my toenails and fingernails dislodged. I freaked out. The discomfort was more pronounced on the fingers, probably because they are more visible to the eye.
  • Inadvertently, things such as hair and tissue paper got trapped in between and caused sudden pain. I wrapped surgical tape around all my fingernails and it made my life so much better.

The health scare of the year, however, goes to the local Zika outbreak in late August that sent Singaporeans sweeping mosquito repellents off the shelves. Pregnant women were especially worried as the virus can cause microcephaly in babies.

What made the outbreak worse was that four out of five Zika patients were asymptomatic and could have spread the infection unknowingly.

Zika outbreak in Singapore

  • There have been 41 cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus infection here, according to the Ministry of Health and the National Environment Agency.
  • 12 / 27 Of the 41 people who tested positive for Zika, 34 of them have fully recovered while seven are recovering at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said MOH and NEA in the joint statement
  • None of the cases travelled to Zika-affected areas recently, which suggests that the virus was transmitted locally.
  • All of the infected are residents or workers in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive areas, including 36 foreign workers.
  • NEA has stepped up its anti-mosquito measures - which include fogging and increased frequency of drain flushing - in the affected area and implicated dorms.
  • Meanwhile, residents said they felt assured by the increased efforts to combat the disease.
  • NEA began distributing insect repellents and leaflets with information on Zika to Sembawang Drive residents, having already done so in the affected area.
  • Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told local media more imported cases are likely because Singapore is an international travel hub.
  • And because many Zika carriers display only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all – meaning infected people may not seek treatment – local transmission of these imported cases "is also very high", he said.

minlee@sph.com.sg