By Ariana Eunjung Cha August 29

A public service announcement against the spread of Aedes mosquitoes, a carrier for the Zika virus, in the Aljunied Crescent neighborhood of Singapore on Aug. 29. (Roslan Rahman/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images) Global health officials stepped up defensive measures against Zika over the weekend as the virus continued to expand its reach at a rapid pace.


Singapore reported one of the largest single clusters outside the Americas, confirming 56 infections, mostly among foreign workers at a construction site. On Monday, inspectors armed with insecticide were visiting high-rise public housing buildings to look at toilets and other areas for stagnant water, according to Agence France-Presse.

The outbreak in the city-state of Singapore, a hub for Southeast Asia, has alarmed its neighbors. Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have each seen a case of Zika and have been concerned that the infections might be spreading locally but have not been able to confirm whether that is the case.

In the past 48 hours, Taiwan has issued a travel advisory for Singapore, and Malaysia ordered thermal screening at checkpoints for travelers who enter from Singapore by bus.

Subramaniam Sathasivam, Malaysia’s health minister, said at a news conference that 150,000 to 200,000 people commute between Johor in Malaysia and Singapore each day.

“The risk is imminent,” he said, according to Singapore’s Straits Times. “The main thing is to reduce the risk of the virus spreading to others.”

On the opposite side of the world, Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and other theme parks in Florida said Sunday that they would begin distributing free insect repellent to visitors.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office told the Orlando Sentinel that he had “talked to many of the attractions and theme parks. He’s held multiple conference calls with Visit Florida and tourism leaders to make them aware of things they can do. He appreciates all of these businesses doing this.”

U.S. cities still hundreds of miles away from the current mosquito-borne outbreaks, which have so far been limited to Florida and Puerto Rico, began spraying densely populated areas to try to ward off mosquitoes for as long as possible. Baltimore advised residents of some neighborhoods to stay indoors after 10 p.m. Sunday to avoid being exposed to mosquito-killing spray from trucks, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after finding Zika in blood that had been donated by someone in Florida, began efforts to screen the entire country’s blood supply for the virus. In a separate action, regulators issued an emergency-use authorization for Swiss drugmaker Roche’s molecular diagnostic test for Zika. Samples from patients with fever, rash and other symptoms of the virus can now be sent to a lab that can use Roche’s technology to rapidly test for infection.

In a statement, the company reaffirmed its “commitment to help healthcare professionals who are working to combat this serious disease.”

An Aedes aegypti mosquito sits inside a glass tube at the Fiocruz institute where they have been screening for mosquitos naturally infected with the Zika virus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)


Zika first drew the alarm of public health officials because of its link to thousands of babies with severe birth defects in Brazil. The virus is now actively spreading in 51 countries.

In the United States, there have been at least six miscarriages, stillbirths or abortions due to birth defects that appeared to be related to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in mid-August that 17 babies infected with the virus in utero had been born with microcephaly, a condition defined by an abnormally small head and often serious brain damage.

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