Dengue weekly cases hit record high despite efforts

THE number of new dengue cases in a week has surged to an all-time high, despite efforts to bring it under control.

Last week, 756 people were down with dengue, 43 more than the previous peak in September 2005 during Singapore's worst epidemic. That year, 14,000 people were infected and 25 died.

So far this year, more than 8,600 people have been infected and one has died. Mr Ang Yong Han, 20, died of dengue shock syndrome last week, after the virus caused an inflammation of both his liver and brain and sent his blood pressure plummeting.

Dr Lam Pin Min, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health, said the rising numbers are "indeed worrying".

"The trend is not abating in spite of all the current campaigns and community efforts," he told The Straits Times.

In April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched a national campaign to stamp out possible mosquito breeding spots.

Dr Lam warned that if the numbers keep going up, public hospitals may have to postpone non- urgent surgery to make room for dengue patients.

But Dr Indumathi Venkatachalam, an infectious diseases specialist at the National University Hospital (NUH), is more optimistic.

She said: "It should plateau eventually and probably will plateau soon."

This is because as more people get infected, the population builds up "herd immunity" which makes it more difficult for the virus to spread.

The dominant dengue virus in the past few years has been Den-2. This changed early this year. As a result, few people have immunity.

According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), the breakdown of infections for this month is Den-1 (54 per cent), Den-2 (28 per cent), Den-3 (18 per cent) and Den-4 (0 per cent).

There are now more than 40 active dengue clusters, with the majority of cases still centred on the eastern part of Singapore.

However, clusters in the north and west have surfaced in recent weeks.

The disease can be spread only via the Aedes mosquito. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has hundreds of officers scouring the country for mosquito breeding in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus. The NEA has also said it will break into homes in dengue hot spots after waiting just a week, instead of two, for residents to allow them in.

So far, the majority of breeding sites are still found in homes, in common spots such as vases, pot plates and bamboo pole holders.

Said Dr Lam: "If every single person plays his or her own part in checking the home and backyard for possible breeding sites, I am sure we will be able to win this war, as in other years.

"We must all take this seriously as any weak links will render our combined efforts futile."

He also urged anyone who suspects they have dengue to see a doctor early to reduce suffering and death from the disease.

Doctors are obliged to report all dengue cases to the ministry, which in turn informs the NEA. The earlier they know of cases, the faster NEA officials can try to stop the spread in that area by getting rid of mosquitoes there.

Symptoms of dengue include a sudden fever which lasts three to four days, coupled with headaches, muscle and joint pain and possibly a rash.

It is important for people with dengue to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

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