Singapore may see biggest dengue outbreak, with more than 9,000 cases so far in 2020

NEA officers conducting fogging at the Woodleigh Close dengue cluster. (PHOTO: National Environment Agency)
NEA officers conducting fogging at the Woodleigh Close dengue cluster. (PHOTO: National Environment Agency)

SINGAPORE — The National Environment Agency (NEA) has called for urgent community effort in prevention of dengue cases, as Singapore is facing the prospect of its biggest dengue outbreak in recent history.

As of Tuesday (2 June), there have already 9,261 reported dengue cases this year. This is the highest for the same period of the year since 2013, when Singapore registered its largest dengue outbreak with 22,170 cases.

NEA said that the number of dengue cases is expected to exceed the 15,998 cases in 2019, and may even surpass the 2013 peak.

More worryingly, the number of dengue cases has risen sharply in the past four weeks, climbing from 300 to 400 cases from January to April, to 735 cases last week – a figure not seen since the peak dengue years in 2013 and 2014.

There were already 12 dengue-related deaths this year, 10 of whom worked or resided in active dengue cluster areas. They are aged between 56 and 80 years old. Last year, 20 people died of dengue.

Circuit breaker measures exacerbated dengue situation

NEA said that a combination of factors have contributed to the recent spike in dengue cases. Firstly, an increase in a less common dengue virus strain was reported since the start of the year. This virus strain was last dominant about 30 years ago, which means there is low immunity in the current population and a rapid disease transmission.

Secondly, Singapore is entering the traditional dengue peak season, with warmer weather encouraging faster breeding of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the dengue virus.

Thirdly, NEA’s surveillance system has revealed more areas with high Aedes aegypti mosquito populations.

Finally, the spike in dengue cases occurred over a short four-week period since early May, and coincided with the COVID-19 circuit breaker period. The Aedes aegypti mosquito dwells mainly indoors and primarily bites during the day, so with more people staying at home during the day, this has likely exacerbated the dengue situation.

Efforts in dengue control stepped up

NEA has stepped up efforts in dengue control this years, such as rolling out its surveillance system to landed estates, bringing forward its National Dengue Prevention Campaign from April to March, deploying more dengue alert banners and posters, and ramping up dengue prevention outreach via digital and mobile platforms.

Last month, it has also worked with the Ministry of Health, polyclinics and general practitioners to provide over 300,000 bottles of mosquito repellent for distribution to patients who are suspected to have dengue.

NEA has also stepped up its checks at construction sites, especially given their closure during the circuit breaker period, and has observed a two-fold increase in the detection of Aedes mosquito larvae at the sites.

From January to May, 52 summonses and two Stop Work Orders were issued to construction sites, and two contractors will be charged in court for repeat offences.

Urgent collective community effort needed

The agency has called for urgent collective community effort to drastically reduce mosquito breeding habitats and slow down the rise in the number of dengue cases, especially since the traditional dengue peak season could last from June to October.

It urged residents, contractors and business owners to help fight dengue by using its Check and Protect checklist that flags common mosquito breeding habitats, and doing the “Mozzie Wipeout” steps to get rid of stagnant water in the premises:

  • Turn the pails

  • Tip the vases

  • Flip the flowerpot plate

  • Loosen the hardened soil

  • Clear the roof gutter and place Bti insecticide

All residents living in dengue cluster areas are also strongly encouraged to cooperate with NEA officers, and facilitate their checks and indoor misting in their homes.

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