How an insect brings a city to its knees

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iol scitech june 12 dengue REUTERS A community worker fumigates a classroom at a school in an attempt to prevent dengue before school starts.

Singapore - Singapore is fighting back against a rapidly worsening dengue epidemic by distributing insect repellants to every household and recruiting hundreds of disease control officers, officials said.

Two Singaporeans have died from the virus so far this year and weekly cases hit an all-time high of 820 in the period ending June 8, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

More than 9,300 people were infected this year as of Tuesday, fast nearing the 13 984 infections in 2005, the worst year on record, official data showed.

NEA said its officers and volunteers would be distributing 1.2 million insect repellants to all households in the compact island of over five million from July to August this year.

This would “help residents protect themselves from mosquito bites and thus break the chain of transmission,” it said.

The agency is also hiring 300 new officers to supplement its current 850-strong disease control team.

“With the strengthened operational workforce, NEA will be able to inspect 100 percent of the premises in dengue clusters within a week, as well as to step up preventive surveillance checks in non-cluster areas,” it said.

Dengue is endemic in Singapore, a rainy tropical island, as well as neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.

The virus causes high fever, headaches, itching and joint pains. At an advanced stage it can lead to haemorrhaging and death.

The NEA said the current epidemic was driven by “low population immunity” and warmer weather. The Aedes mosquito, which carries the virus and transmits the disease, thrives during the hot season.

Homeowners in the city-state - known for its fastidious sanitation - can be fined Sg$200 (about R1 400) if mosquito breeding spots are found in their homes.

Repeat offenders can be fined up to Sg$5 000 or jailed for up to three months, or both.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned in January that the disease had global “epidemic potential” after registering a 30-fold increase in the last 50 years to two million cases annually due to climate change and increased travel. - Sapa-AFP

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