Student creates website to highlight dengue outbreaks

This article was first published on Aug 4, 2014

A postgraduate student has gone online to do his bit in the fight against dengue.

Mr Xie Rufeng, a 32-year-old who is doing a master's degree in computer science at the National University of Singapore, has set up a website that tracks outbreaks of the disease here.

His model, which takes advantage of Google Maps, shows where individual dengue cases occur, rather than the clusters on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.

Mr Xie's website, accessible at outbreak.sgcharts.com, also includes a timeline going back to April 22, allowing visitors to see how dengue hot spots have developed over time.

"I thought it would be interesting to see whether dengue has re-emerged in certain areas," he said.

For instance, the Flora Drive area was the largest dengue cluster in Singapore a month ago, with 172 cases. A cluster refers to at least two cases reported within 150m of each other in a fortnight.

The area stopped being a dengue hot spot several weeks later, but now seems to be re-emerging.

"It's only a few cases so far, but if I were a resident there, I would be concerned," said Mr Xie, adding that it took him about four months to develop his site.

Mr Xie, who lives in the east, updates his website once or twice a week, using daily data from the NEA. He plans to keep updating his site for as long as the dengue season lasts.

Typically, dengue peaks from June to August, after which the number of new cases declines as the weather gets cooler.

Asked what motivated him to set up the site, Mr Xie said: "I'm very interested in data visualisation. I also want to see if dengue clusters are threatening my place of residence."

To prevent the spread of dengue, the NEA is encouraging people to make an effort to get rid of mosquito breeding spots like stagnant water in pails or vases.

A spokesman for the agency said it also welcomes community initiatives to develop solutions that help improve the visualisation of data, such as the one created by Mr Xie, which uses information that is published by NEA on its dengue website.

The location of dengue cases displayed on the NEA site, however, are accurate only up to the street or block level "for patient confidentiality reasons".

"Hence, the information from the newly developed dengue map needs to be interpreted with caution," she added.

"Nevertheless, we welcome Mr Xie's efforts, which highlight the immediacy of the dengue epidemic and the need for everyone to take precautionary action."

The NEA will be launching an improved version of the myENV mobile application soon.

This upgrade will incorporate new features to push dengue information to users.

"We will continually enhance our online platforms to create greater public awareness on environment-related information, as well as make such data available to support such ground-up initiatives," added the spokesman.

linettel@sph.com.sg