Big spike in dengue as cases hit 2,000 in first three months of 2019
Three-fold increase from the 600 cases in same period last year sparks early launch of prevention campaign
The number of dengue cases has shot up to more than 2,000 in the first three months of this year, almost 31/2 times more than the 600 cases reported in the same period last year.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli has also warned that the hotter weather due to climate change would increase the mosquito population.
Mr Masagos, who launched this year's national dengue prevention campaign at Kampung Admiralty Community Plaza yesterday, said: "In Singapore, dengue continues to be an ongoing threat.
"The effects of climate change, where the temperature is expected to rise, are going to exacerbate the challenge."
He added that neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have also reported a sharp spike in dengue cases.
The dengue prevention campaign, which was launched in mid-May in the past two years, was rolled out earlier this year to raise public awareness ahead of the peak dengue period from June to October.
Urging the public to be more vigilant in containing dengue, Mr Masagos said the coming warmer months would be optimal for mosquito breeding, which is expected to increase.
"To win the war on dengue, we need everyone to be vigilant," he said, as he urged residents to remove stagnant water from common breeding places such as pails, dish trays and flower pot plates in their homes.
Apart from the 2,000-plus cases, three people have died from dengue in the first three months this year, up from one last year.
In 2017, there were 2,772 dengue cases, the lowest in 16 years, but the figure rose by 20 per cent to 3,285 last year. Still, they were a far cry from the 11,000-plus cases annually from 2013 to 2016.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a release yesterday that it will increase its efforts to suppress the mosquito population, such as expanding the Gravitrap surveillance system to new Housing Board flats and landed housing estates in the second half of this year.
The NEA-developed Gravitrap attracts and traps female Aedes mosquitoes looking for sites to lay their eggs. It is also used to collect data on the mosquito population here.
About 14,000 Gravitraps will be deployed across Singapore this year, adding to the 50,000 traps that are already in place.
The third phase of Project Wolbachia has also started, with male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes released to suppress the breeding of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Field studies showed that 80 per cent and 70 per cent of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were suppressed in Nee Soon East and Tampines West respectively.
Three experts contacted by The New Paper yesterday see climate change as a factor causing a rise in dengue cases and becoming a problem in combating dengue transmission.
One of them, Professor Ary Hoffmann, an entomologist at the University of Melbourne who sits on Singapore's Dengue Expert Advisory Panel, said that climate variability will increase the rate of mosquito breeding.
He told TNP: "If it is warmer, mosquitoes will complete their life cycle more quickly, increasing their population size.
"With increased variability in rainfall, local flooding can also create new breeding sites, such as in containers or cracks in buildings."
Agreeing with Mr Masagos that community vigilance is crucial, Dr Lily Neo, deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said the community can play a powerful role in preventing dengue.
She told TNP: "It's about stemming the problem at the source. Prevention at source is best because if mosquitoes can't breed, they can't cause disease.
"People need to be constantly reminded to protect themselves and be responsible in fighting dengue. Early treatment is also equally important."
Another expert, Professor Tikki Pang, a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, agrees the community must be actively engaged to keep themselves safe.
He said: "Dengue deaths so far have been among the elderly, so vigilance and minimising their exposure to bites can be focused on them."
Ms Janice Hu, 20, who lives near the high-risk dengue clusters in Woodlands, said her family is worried about the increase in mosquitoes in the area as her 95-year-old grandmother lives with them.
Ms Hu said: "My family keeps a lookout for stagnant water, but it is only effective if neighbours do it too, because we can still get bitten if there are breeding sites nearby."