18 new chikungunya cases in Kranji, Bukit Timah clusters

THE chikungunya virus continues to spread in Singapore, with 19 more people identified with the illness last week. That brings the total for the year to 126.

There are two areas where the infections are rife - around Kranji-Sungei Kadut and along Bukit Timah Road.

Five of the latest infections have hit people who live along Bukit Timah Road, taking the total number of infected in this area to at least 19.

There were 13 new infections found in Kranji, involving 11 foreign workers and two Singaporeans. The last case is still being investigated, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Health (MOH) last night.

The MOH and the National Environment Agency have been working hard to contain the spread of the mosquito-borne virus for the past month, but new cases continue to surface.

Dr Indumathi Venkatachalam, an infectious diseases expert at the National University Hospital, said: "Dengue and chikungunya come from the same type of mosquito so it is not surprising to see an increase in the latter."

Chikungunya is currently not endemic here. This outbreak is believed to have been started after one or more of six people who contracted the disease abroad brought the virus to Singapore.

But the country is preparing for what could be its worst dengue epidemic, with more than 6,000 people catching the disease this year. In 2005, 14,000 people fell sick and 25 died.

Dr Indumathi added that chikungunya is usually "not life threatening but it causes prolonged joint pain which can be debilitating as the discomfort can continue for a few months".

Symptoms for chikungunya and dengue are almost identical - high fever, headache, eye ache, joint pain, rashes and lethargy.

The fatigue that is caused by both viral diseases can last weeks or even months.

Like the dengue virus, chikungunya does not spread from person to person, but needs a mosquito as the intermediary. A mosquito carrying the virus can infect more than a dozen people in its lifetime.