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Top six health issues in Singapore

For anyone planning to move to Singapore, getting hold of information on the overall wellness of the country from health reports and statistics can be pretty confusing. Looking through expat blogs, travel guides and government health board bulletins can paint starkly contrasting viewpoints of what should and shouldn’t be considered legitimate potential health concerns.

While Singapore is a highly-developed country by worldwide standards, the fact that it is sandwiched tightly in between developing Malaysia and Indonesia can have a negative effect on the overall health of Singaporeans due to air pollution. Furthermore, given Singapore’s extremely high population density, the risk of catching a communicable disease (such as colds and flus – not the scary apocalyptic viral outbreaks you see in movies) is fairly high since these tend to be passed around very easily. These smaller threats should not be underestimated, as avoiding them isn’t as easy as we’re used to at home.

You might be surprised by the most common illnesses
You might be surprised by the most common illnesses

Today, Singapore faces health problems and disease more akin to Europe and North America than most of its Southeast Asian neighbours; namely obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some hereditary illness. For the most part, these issues don’t affect most expats directly, but it is still good to know what to be on the lookout for and make sure you have a contingency plan in place for health insurance coverage if you do get sick. To help you be aware of what you are dealing with in this country, below is a list of some of the most common diseases in Singapore:

1. Respiratory Conditions, Asthma and Lung Irritants
While Singapore itself is not a significant producer of air pollution (although there are still plenty of cars on the road that don’t help the cause!), neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia both still practice slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as intensive logging and heavy industrial manufacturing. Both release tons of smoke and smog into the air. This air pollution causes “smog cough”, difficulty breathing, respiratory irritation and even asthma for locals and expats alike. To protect yourself, use an activated charcoal dust mask on heavy pollution days and limit outdoor exposure.

2. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease sounds like it should be more common among livestock than humans, but in recent years the virus has been very prevalent in Singapore; particularly among young children. HFMD, as it is usually abbreviated, presents sufferers with small blisters, scabs, and/or rashes on the hands, feet, face and sometimes buttocks. It lives in saliva and mucus and is usually spread by touch, so good hygiene is the best way to prevent infection. Since it tends to spread quickly among small communities, it is best to keep kids away from daycare or other places when a breakout is detected.

Dealing with illness around Singapore's condos can be tricky
Dealing with illness around Singapore’s condos can be tricky

3. Dengue Fever
In recent years Dengue Fever has made a strong resurgence in Singapore. This mosquito-borne virus often manifests itself through headaches, nausea, fever, joint and muscles aches, and sometimes hemorrhaging, and can prove fatal if not attended to. It is not curable but can be treated, so see a doctor immediately if you suspect infection and always do your best to prevent mosquito bites.

4. Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is epidemic in Singapore with estimates running as high as 10% of the adult population being affected. It is believed to be linked to a gene common among ethnic Indians and Malays rather than being closely tied to Singaporean diet. Still, limiting sugar intake, exercising, avoiding processed foods and not smoking reduces the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes in adulthood.

5. Influenza (Common Flu)
As an international business hub, Singapore’s millions of annual visitors do their best to ensure that the country doesn’t get left out when flu season rolls around. Furthermore, the city’s warm, wet climate ensures that viruses stays active and infectious for longer than in colder climes, so double up on the hand washing and sanitizer wipes when out and about.

6. Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in Singapore and affects men and women alike, typically around midlife. While heredity does play a small role in increased likelihood of developing the disease, most cases are diagnosed wherein the patient had no prior family history of colon cancer. The best way to reduce likeliness of colon cancer is to avoid fatty foods, over drinking and smoking. Additionally, be sure to get screened by a doctor as part of your routine health checkup.

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