Are you pregnant? Do you worry about Zika in Singapore? You are not alone. Find out what these mums-to-be are doing to protect themselves and their unborn babies from the virus.
As of yesterday, there are 242 cases of Zika in Singapore. The first reports of local transmission of the virus were reported on August 27. If you are currently pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you are probably worried. Your concern is understandable. After all, while Zika is generally a mild disease for most people, it can be dangerous for unborn babies if their mothers are infected.
The Zika virus can pass from the pregnant woman to her foetus. A Zika virus infection can cause microcephaly in the unborn foetus. This is a birth defect where the baby’s head is much smaller than expected. It happens when the baby’s head does not develop properly during pregnancy. The condition can exist on its own or present in combination with other birth defects.
Not surprisingly, pregnant women in Singapore have concerns. Bernice Chan (below), who is eight weeks pregnant with her second child, admits that she is “extremely worried”. “On a scale of one to 10, it’s a 10”. The dentist spares no efforts to protect herself and her unborn baby. On top of applying anti-mosquito lotions and sprays, avoiding evening walks, and wearing long-sleeved tops and pants, she also uses mosquito coils and diffuses essential oils at home.
“If we go downstairs, we slather on anti-mosquito patches. We have no potted plants at home and we keep our pipes and drainage clean and dry. I work in an air-conditioned area but I make it a point to apply the anti-mosquito lotion every two to three hours if I am heading outdoors,” the mum of a three-year-old girl adds.
My family has been very supportive. They will remind me to pack the sprays, lotions, and patches into my bag. My doctor has advised me against taking late afternoon and evening walks, but swimming and morning walks are generally fine.”
Last week, when Zika was first reported in Singapore, MacPherson Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling — who oversees the affected zone at Aljunied Crescent — sprang into action immediately. (See this article) She started a list of mums-to-be in the area. “We regularly email them information about the Zika operation,” she explains. “My grassroots leaders and I also visit them to check in on them. We serve as a listening ear and if they need it, provide advice and help.”
As a mother herself, the MP for the Single Member Constituency can relate to fellow mums who are concerned about how the virus may impact their lives.
“As a new mum, I feel deeply for the mums-to-be. All mums want the best for their children, and want to make sure that Zika does not affect them. I understand this strong desire to protect the unborn and young ones,” MP Tin Pei Ling shares with SingaporeMotherhood in an email interview.
“I deeply sympathise with the mums-to-be. When I meet them, there is anxiety but I am glad they are coping well. They are taking active steps within their homes to protect themselves from getting bitten by mosquitos. I hope for the best for these mums-to-be and their unborn children,” she says.
While the MP does not reside in the affected (Aljunied Crescent) area, she reveals that she lives “near a wooded area where there are quite a lot of mosquitos”. At home, she uses citronella to help curb the entry of mosquitoes. When she takes her one-year-old son Kee Hau out, she puts mosquito patches on him. “He has gotten bitten a few times, but thankfully it was nothing serious. We can and should try to minimise the dangers, but I don’t think it is possible to protect children from all risks all the time.”
Still, she stresses the need to take the Zika situation seriously. “People feel some anxiety, but by and large are getting on with their lives. The steps taken by NEA and my Town Council against mosquitos will help fight both Zika and Dengue. Because the possible risk of Zika to unborn children is so serious, we should fight its spread with all the arsenal at our disposal.”
What Pregnant Mums-To-Be Are Doing to Protect Themselves from Zika
There is no group of people which is more or less vulnerable to this virus. However, the consequences can be more severe when an expectant mother gets infected. Her baby could be born with microcephaly — a condition where the brain does not develop properly.
Clarice Tan, an account director who is expecting for the first time, resides in Marine Parade, not too far from Zika’s ‘ground zero’ in Singapore. She appreciates Ms. Tin’s efforts in the Zika fight. “It’s not something she can prevent, but the fact that she is reaching out and going out of her way to assure speaks volumes”.
On the scale of one to 10, Clarice, who is in her third trimester, puts her worry level at a six. Although she has yet to consult her doctor, she is trying to ensure that both herself and baby are safe by staying hydrated, avoiding infected areas, stocking up on lemongrass scents, and keeping her home and work environment clean.
Grace Sim (above) is not overly concerned either. “The government is doing what they can to get this issue under control,” says the 30-year-old. The ballet teacher and her family are also taking preventive measures. “At home, we make sure that there is no stagnant water. When we go out the whole family applies mosquito repellent first before leaving the house. I also pack a bottle of repellent, anti-mosquito patches, and mosquito repellent wipes in my bag,” the mum of a 17-month-old girl adds.
A friend of mine who prefers not to be named is 29 weeks pregnant. It is her first pregnancy. For her, the worry level is a 10. Because her work requires her to be out in the open, she is considering starting her maternity leave up to two months ahead of her delivery date. At home, she keeps the windows shut and blasts the air-conditioner 24/7. Outside, she sticks to air conditioned malls and restaurants. “My family is supporting me in efforts to seal off the entire house and going without fresh air. They’re also supporting me on an emotional level given this time of great stress,” she says.
While she is not sure what the authorities can do to help ease the concerns of mums-to-be, she believes that more can and should be done: “The media doesn’t report much, besides the usual fogging and hunting for breeding grounds and raising awareness. I wrote to the MOH (copying my MP) with some very specific questions about what the government and private enterprises are doing to protect people working or attending school around the Aljunied/Sims Drive vicinity — in the form of policies such as flexible working arrangements to minimise exposure to the virus. I received an email reply that did not answer my question, but instead contained a pre-written list of generic advice on long-sleeved shirts and repellent, and where to seek testing. Perhaps I shouldn’t assume, but I can only guess that they’re evading my question because nothing useful is being done.”
Teacher Sabrina Tan, 29, is in her third trimester of pregnancy and relatively calm about the situation. “I understand the virus does not affect the third trimester as much as compared to the first or second trimester. Next, the probability of a mother infected with Zika giving birth to a baby with microcephaly is kind of low. But I don’t want to take my chances.”
Chen Huiwen, 30, is more concerned. “I’m still in my early second trimester. This is the most crucial period in the foetus’ brain development,” she shares. While she is not too worried about being bitten while at work as she works in an air-conditioned environment, Huiwen is taking precautions at home by keeping windows and doors closed. “My family will also be installing mozzie nets over the toilet ventilation windows,” she said.
Although she is eight months pregnant, Bevlyn Khoo (above) remains unruffled by the Zika spread. “I’ve been reading articles on the non-conclusive links between the Zika virus and microcephaly, hence I don’t want to get paranoid about it,” she explains. “Psychologically, I think it also helps that I’m now in my last trimester. Between the Zika virus and dengue fever, I would be more wary of dengue since its rate of infection seems higher!”
But the 37-year-old singer-songwriter is not leaving her health (and her baby’s) to chance. She sprays her house twice a day with an insect repellent (that has no more than 20 per cent DEET or Picaridin). When she leaves the house, she uses a plant-based mosquito repellent on her legs and arms and wears long jeans or pants — especially in the evenings. She has also stopped applying perfume. “I heard that perfume (especially the floral & fruity types) attracts mosquitoes!”
Fellow eight-month pregnant mum-to-be Isabelle Lum, 29, feels differently. On a scale of one to 10, she says her level of worry hovers at an eight. “I am quite concerned. I get bitten by mosquitoes very easily,” the mum of a two-year-old girl says. The business development manager has purchased mosquito repellent electric liquid for every room at home. Her family goes out less often, and ensures that they have mosquito patches or mozzie repellent bands on if they leave the house. “I work in a retail shop and it has air-con so I only put on the band when I am travelling to and from work, and when I will be outdoors.”
Get Updates on Zika
Zika is an Aedes mosquito-transmitted disease whose symptoms include fever, skin rashes, red eyes, body aches and headache. However, these signs only manifest in about one in five of everyone infected. This condition lasts between four to seven days and some may confuse it with dengue. So far the virus is present in more than 70 countries and territories.
Stay updated about the virus and its spread:
- If you are pregnant and have Zika symptoms, or have partner with Zika symptoms, take a free test at public healthcare institutions in Singapore
- See the MOH guidelines for pregnant women
- Visit the Zika microsite at Gov.sg for local news
- See the Zika situation reports from the World Health Organization
- How to do the 5-Step Mozzie Wipeout
Additional text: the SingaporeMotherhood team