In the past year, one mosquito-born illness has caused a stir: Zika. If you’re pregnant or have kids, the prospect of this disease making its way over here must have crossed your mind. Thankfully, Singapore takes the prevention of mosquito breeding very seriously indeed, but just what are the dangers and what else do we need to be aware of? We get the low-down from Pacific Prime Insurance, as ‘forewarned is forearmed’!
How can you get Zika?
In the past year Zika has caused a fair amount of confusion, but there are a number of things we know for sure. First off, we have determined that Zika is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, the species which is commonly responsible for the transmission of dengue. Interestingly, according to the CDC, ‘Most people infected with Zika virus won’t even know they have the disease because they won’t have symptoms.’ For those who do show symptoms, you will usually experience: fever, a rash, joint or muscle pain, conjunctivitis and a headache.
What is most scary about this virus goes beyond the actual symptoms, specifically the after-effects it could have especially on pregnant women. It is known that Zika can be passed from mother to fetus during pregnancy and that men can also transmit the disease to their partner. As the CDC highlights, there are a number of aspects which are still not fully understood, including: how the Zika virus affects pregnancy, how likely it is for Zika to be passed from mother to fetus and whether the fetus or baby will develop birth defects.
How does the Zika virus affect pregnancy?
Possibly the most worrying thing about Zika is the link with microcephaly – a birth defect where a baby’s head and brain is smaller or less developed than it should be for their age. Since 2015, an increasing number of microcephaly cases have been reported which many scientists have linked to Zika. To be clear here: It is not 100% confirmed that microcephaly is caused by Zika, but as the World Health Organisation states, ‘There is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome which can be a fatal condition.’
Over the past year, Zika has spread from Brazil to the rest of Central America, and is now found to be actively transmitted in both North and South America and in many nations of the pacific as well.
Could Zika come to Singapore?
From the news in the past year, it is clear that Zika is slowly spreading around the world and it is entirely possible that in any area where the Aedes mosquito is present, Zika will be sure to follow, this includes Singapore. While as of the writing of this article, it has not been found to be actively spread in the city-state, there has been at least one reported case of what experts call ‘imported Zika’ – catching a disease in another location and bringing it to a new one.
In mid-May news broke in Singapore that a 48 year-old man was diagnosed on May 13 with Zika in Singapore. From what we know, he did not contract the disease here, rather had recently spent time in Brazil where he contracted the disease. He did not show symptoms until six days after he arrived back in Singapore.
Because of the abundance of Aedes mosquitoes in areas of Singapore, if the man was bitten again by a mosquito during those six days, it could have spread to other people. Whether it has or not remains to be seen, but this incident has sparked concern within the city, especially due to the risk the disease poses for pregnant women.
How can we protect ourselves and our kids from Zika?
It is important to note that at the time, there is no known cure for Zika, but there are things you can do to minimise the impact of the virus in the city. One thing that could really help, is to follow the general steps and prevention methods outlined by the Singapore Government on their Dengue site. Coincidently, the Dengue site also covers Zika virus and what the government suggests you should do.
Beyond that, as an expat, it would be beneficial to invest in a health insurance plan that covers care in Singapore. While symptoms are usually light, a strong plan can help provide cover should you or a family member get sick from a mosquito-born illness.
This is especially important for expats, as there is a good chance that you do not have access to the Universal health coverage system (Medisave), which is available only for Singapore residents. Instead, a private health insurance scheme is necessary.
Where can I buy health insurance that covers me for Zika?
Not every health insurance scheme is created equal, and when it comes to the Zika virus it should be known that not every private health insurance plan will cover care for diseases or viruses that are labeled as epidemic. In other words, if epidemics are excluded in your policy, all care related to ailments caused by Zika will not be covered.
The second thing to be aware of is that if you are pregnant and will be travelling in the near future, you may not actually be allowed to travel. We have heard of cases where a pregnant mother was not allowed to get on a plane to Thailand because her doctor thought the risk of contracting Zika was too high, and did not clear her to fly. If you have already booked your flights and then are forced to cancel, some travel insurance providers may not reimburse you.
Fortunately, there are health insurance providers who will provide cover for Zika virus ailments. If you would like to learn more about these plans and whether you will be covered, it would be a good idea to contact an expert in health insurance such as Pacific Prime Singapore. Their staff can help you find the best health insurance plan for expats in Singapore, including plans that will cover care for Zika virus.