‘Dengue still a serious threat’

Although dengue is not the next Covid-19, the threat it poses must still be taken seriously, experts said.

This is because the disease can still kill, and may impose a burden on hospitals and the economy here.

However, the experts added that because of the nature of dengue, any public health measures taken are unlikely to be the same as those implemented to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the start of 2022, Singapore has recorded more than 8,500 cases of dengue. This is more cases than for the entire 2021, and a higher caseload than the total for the same period each year from 2018 to 2021.

The National Environment Agency has repeatedly called for vigilance in the community, warning that Singapore could see a major dengue outbreak this year, especially since the number of cases has been rising sharply even before the traditional peak dengue season from June to October.

When asked about the surge and its potential impact on public health here, Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said: “I don’t think dengue will be the next Covid-19, and we will not need the same kind of broad restrictions on liberties as we did over the last few years to respond to it.”

This is because of key differences between the diseases. Covid-19, he pointed out, is very transmissible and typically gets transmitted from person to person.

This meant that before vaccines were available, the only way to stop it was through non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as safe management measures, which required members of the public making great changes to their daily lives.

However, as dengue is transmitted to humans from the bite of an infective mosquito, it can be controlled through environmental, non-pharmaceutical measures.

“The burden of these on the general population is much smaller because much of it is done by the government rather than individuals. However, we should not forget that dengue can make you very badly sick and it can, and does, kill some of those who get infected,” he added.

Dr Ruklanthi de Alwis, senior research fellow with Duke-NUS Medical School’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, agreed.

She noted that during the circuit breaker period, when Covid-19 control measures were at their tightest, the prevalence of dengue did not decrease despite infections from other diseases dropping.

“The control efforts for Covid-19, which is a respiratory pathogen, will not work for dengue,” she added.

Dr de Alwis, who is also a senior research fellow at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre, highlighted that about 75% of dengue cases are asymptomatic or otherwise unreported – allowing them to act as a large hidden reservoir of the virus for mosquitoes to get infected and worsen the problem.

Aside from hidden transmission in humans, there is also transmission between infected mosquitoes and animals in the wild, which is not as well monitored and could potentially result in mutations emerging. — The Straits Times/ANN

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