• Kyodo

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A total of 16 pregnant women in Singapore are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, local media reported Saturday.

The Ministry of Health is exploring plans to set up a national surveillance program to monitor the development of babies born to Zika-infected women, the main English-language daily, the Straits Times, reported.

The number of pregnant women infected with Zika has doubled from the eight cases reported on Sept. 11.

The affected women are receiving counseling and support from their doctors, the daily said.

In Brazil, where the Zika epidemic is particularly virulent, Zika has been linked to babies born with microcephaly — abnormally small heads that can lead to severe developmental problems — after their mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy.

Since the first locally transmitted case of Zika in Singapore was announced by the ministry on Aug. 27, the number of people infected with Zika in the city-state has swelled to nearly 400.

But the cases of infection seem to be mild so far in Singapore and most patients have recovered.

The ministry has said recently that investigations by its laboratory and a local scientific research institute show that the virus belongs to the Asian lineage and likely evolved from the strain that has been circulating in Southeast Asia since the 1960s.

It also said that there is currently no evidence from existing studies and from this sequence to indicate whether the differences between these strains and the South American virus correlate with differences in severity or type of disease.