Ah, the tropics. It has a lot of great perks. We love the all-year-round balmy weather, constant pool time, ease of dressing (or even sans clothes for the kids) and the sun-kissed skin is pretty good too. But with it comes some tropical ailments that need to be managed.
Whether you’ve just moved to Singapore or you’re just returning from holidays, here’s a reminder of a few viral infections and diseases that come with tropical living. These illnesses are 100% preventable and treatment is thoroughly manageable. And your best ally? A friendly, experienced doctor or General Practitioner.
Selecting a GP
Finding a family physician or GP is definitely something to check off your to-do list. Singapore’s healthcare system is a network of public and private healthcare providers, and the Singapore Medical Council strictly regulates medical practice here. At International Medical Clinic, an international team of highly qualified family doctors, paediatricians and registered nurses are ready to help families. IMC’s high standard of medical care extends beyond the clinic doors, and they are able to recommend suitable specialists and other medical service providers that you might need. Their specialist paediatric clinic is tailor made for kids, with a warm environment and gentle doctors well-versed in children’s health in Singapore.
We were glad to have the kind, helpful folks at IMC share with us about the different types of tropical diseases to be aware of and the preventive measures you can take.
What it is: Mycoplasma is caused by the infective organism M pneumoniae. This highly evolved organism affects the respiratory cells, and is one of the most common causes of pneumonia outside hospitals. Infections are common for those below 20, but rare in children under 5 years old. Symptoms – fever, dry persistent cough, sore throat, headaches and sore chest – can appear after several weeks and last longer than flu or viral pneumonia.
How you get it: This atypical form of pneumonia is spread by droplets from the nose and throat of infected people, often as a result of prolonged contact.
How to prevent it: Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and washing your hands carefully afterwards helps prevent this from spreading.
How to treat it: If you are suffering from these symptoms, and they have lasted longer than a common cold, see a doctor who can decide on a plan of treatment. There is currently no vaccine on the market. Antibiotics are usually prescribed, although this is not always necessary as most cases are mild. A full recovery is expected (hooray!).
Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease (HFMD)
What it is: HFMD is an infectious disease caused by Enteroviruses, and frequently occurs in young children as they are less likely than adults to have antibodies to protect them from this. HFMD is present all year round in Singapore, and its symptoms include fever, poor appetite, painful sores, and a non-itchy skin rash.
How you get it: HFMD is spread from person to person by direct contact, through nose/throat secretions, saliva, blister fluid, and infected stools. Most of the time, it is spread by people with unwashed, virus-contaminated hands. Those infected with HFMD are most contagious in the first week. Plus, the viruses that cause HFMD can remain in the patient’s body for weeks even after the symptoms have disappeared, which means they can still pass the infection to others.
How to prevent it: Maintain high standards of personal and environmental hygiene, like frequently washing hands with soap; covering mouth and nose with tissue; and not sharing food/drinks, eating utensils, toothbrushes and towels with others. Toys or other items and surfaces that are contaminated by nasal/oral secretions should be cleaned and disinfected before being used again.
How to treat it: Consult a doctor early if you suspect that your child has symptoms of HFMD. While there is no specific treatment or vaccine available, there are several measures you can take to manage the symptoms. Fever and pain can be treated with paracetamol and ibuprofen, and mouth pain can be lessened with mouthwashes or gels that numb pain. Also ensure that children have adequate fluid intake to prevent dehydration, and they should refrain from going to crowded public places such as preschools and playgroups.
What it is: This is the most common mosquito-borne viral illness in the world. There are 4 different dengue strains, and 3 of them are currently active in Singapore. Symptoms of dengue fever, which develops within 4 to 7 days after you’ve been bitten, include sudden onset of fever; severe headache; joint/muscle pain; skin rashes; nausea and vomiting; and bleeding from the nose/gums. Dengue haemorrhagic fever (or dengue shock syndrome) is a severe form of dengue fever that could result in death, as patients suffer from continuous bleeding due to low platelet count.
How you get it: Dengue is spread by the bite of the female Aedes mosquito, which is black with white stripes on its body and legs. They usually have two peak periods of activity – in the morning for several hours after daybreak, and in the late afternoon for several hours before dark.
How to prevent it: Do the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) 5-step mozzie wipeout! By that, we mean: change water in vases/bowls on alternate days; turn over all water storage containers; cover bamboo pole holders; clear blockages and put BTI insecticide in roof gutters; and remove water from flower pot plates on alternate days. Apply insect repellent: IMC is the exclusive carrier of the RID range of insect repellents, which contain DEET, an ingredient that has proven most effective in repelling biting insects. For infants below 6 months old, IMC recommends Permethrin Treatment Kits, which can be used safely to treat their clothes. Read this article on how to prevent dengue for more in-depth info.
How to treat it: Visit a GP for a diagnosis, and get a blood test done to determine if you have dengue fever. There is currently no vaccine available, so keep yourself hydrated. The doctor will prescribe meds to ease symptoms, such as folic acid for stomach bleeding and antihistamines for itchy skin. Regular blood tests are necessary to monitor your platelet count, and in serious cases, you may have to head to hospital for intravenous hydration and closer monitoring.
What it is: Chikugunya fever is a viral disease transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. The illness usually lasts a few days to a couple of weeks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, rash, and joint paint. While the symptoms are very similar to dengue fever, patients with chikugunya fever experience fatigue and severe joint pain that last for several weeks. The good news? Someone who has previously been infected will be immune and not get re-infected in future.
How you get it: The Aedes mosquito, which carries the dengue virus, is also a vector of the virus that causes chikugunya. It is more common in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, China, and Taiwan but do be vigilant in Singapore as it is present here from time to time.
How to prevent it: Get rid of mosquito breeding sites in your home by emptying water from flowerpots or buckets, and keep childrens’ wading pools empty and on their sides when not in use. Apply insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin when outdoors, especially during the day.
How to treat it: Seek prompt medical attention if you are unwell and display symptoms of chikugunya fever. There is no vaccine available, so treatment is directed at relieving symptoms through medications like paracetamol and ibuprofen to relieve fever and aching. Those with chikugunya should be protected from further mosquito exposure by staying indoors and under a mosquito net during the first few days of their illness, so that they will not contribute to the transmission cycle.
This post is sponsored by International Medical Clinic.