My Irrational Zika Panic

Zika first appeared on my radar as a South American virus that was scaring athletes away from Rio 2016. I was entirely unprepared for the speed at which it arrived on Singapore shores, but I didn’t think too hard about how it might affect me and my family – until the internet got into my head.

We are reasonably conscious about the need to prevent insect bites: we have UV bug zappers in most rooms of our apartment, and Katy wears a citronella oil “mosquito patch” on her clothes each day (with spare patches in the diaper bag when we go out). Given that the most serious impact of Zika is that it is linked to to microcephaly of infants born to infected mothers, and I am not currently pregnant nor do I have plans to be anytime soon, I was convinced that I had nothing to be concerned about.

You can see the mosquito patch on the back of Katy's top in this photo from last weekend's trip to the Botanic Gardens.

You can see the mosquito patch on the back of Katy’s top in this photo from last weekend’s trip to the Botanic Gardens.

This morning I found that we were running low on mosquito patches, so I hit up RedMart to buy more. They were out of stock. Not just on RedMart, but on all the online storefronts of all the local pharmacies and supermarkets too. I checked the Facebook mummy groups and found pictures of empty shelves previously stocked with insecticide products, interspersed with frantic updates about where mozzie prevention sprays and patches had been last sighted.

I officially freaked out and bought $40 worth of cartoon-printed mosquito patches from an online store that had sent out a Zika-themed promotional email yesterday. There was no ingredient list and the prices were frankly ridiculous – but I bought them anyway. Later in the morning my mother texted me to ask if I wanted any Tiger Balm mozzie repellent spray from the pharmacy in the hospital where she works, and in my excitement I asked for two bottles. (She bought 10 more.)

Having suitably armed myself with Zika-prevention solutions, I knuckled down and got on with my work day. It was only after lunch, when I had a pocket of time to read up further about Zika prevention, that I realised I’d been something of an idiot. Because DEET-free insect repellent products are reportedly not very effective at preventing the spread of Zika – and the haul that I’d amassed between my online spree and my mother’s panic buying is entirely made up of DEET-free products.

My wake-up call rang a second time via Whatsapp group chat, where a friend shared a few links to Zika education pieces from outside Singapore. The information was unequivocal that the risk to anyone who isn’t pregnant is a relatively small possibility of Guillain-Barré syndrome – a serious matter, to be sure, but not one that deserves a panic-and-freak-out reaction.

Thinking back, I can’t fathom why I reacted the way I did. Did the perceived scarcity of insect repellent products convince me that the Zika problem was more serious than I knew it to be?Was throwing money at the problem my way of trying to feel better about a public health situation that’s entirely out of my control?

Or am I just evolving into a bona-fide kiasu aunty?


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