Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Dengue outbreak could be a greater threat than covid in Singapore

Mosquitos carry the dengue virus.Photo by @ahmad_lana via Twenty20

An after dinner walk in nature is the only outdoor activity for many during a Covid-19 lockdown. For literature teacher, writer and pizzeria owner, Heena Bukhari, that sole breather became a source of danger as dengue fever cases surged across Singapore. 

“The whole dengue rise has kind of changed my life,” Bukhari said. 

Across the region, dengue cases have risen sharply, and are expected to continue rising during the hottest and most humid months of  June to August. In 2020 alone, Singapore recorded 15,273 dengue infections and the highest daily record was 283 dengue cases on June 30. The country’s environment agency predicts that total dengue cases will exceed the 22,170 cases reported in 2013, the country’s last dengue outbreak, according to The Straits Times

Dengue is a viral disease that travels via mosquito.When infected with dengue, a person could develop fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, feel nauseous and suffer from nose or gum bleeding. More severe cases develop dengue haemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, which is potentially deadly. 

Common ways to avoid dengue infection include wearing covered clothing and using insect repellents, according to the CDC. But removing stagnant water, where mosquitoes breed, is crucial to preventing a dengue outbreak.

“When I went to my local Guardian (a local pharmacy chain), all the mosquito repellents were out of stock,” Bukhari said. 

In the small island nation most of some 44,000 Covid-19 cases lie in foreign worker  dormitories, but  the dengue fever outbreak has attacked the general population. At 16 deaths, the mosquito-transmitted epidemic has a 0.105% death rate, almost double of the country’s 0.0576% for Covid-19. 

To prevent the possibility of mosquito breeding in her own apartment, Bukhari no longer keeps her house plants, a potential source of stagnant water for mosquito breeding.

“It’s been raining a lot recently, and my pot plants just hold on to a lot of water,” she said.

There is no known cure or treatment for first-time infections. While a vaccine, Dengvaxia, is available for individuals with previous infections, there remains no known solution for those suffering from the disease. 

Although research experts have outlined the differences between dengue fever and Covid-19 symptoms, Bukhari continues to worry about health authorities balancing the efforts  of two concurrent epidemics. 

“I know that Covid is contagious and dengue is not,” Bukhari said. “But I don’t want the government or the people in general to not care about dengue at the same level.” 

To suppress the number of dengue carrying Aedes mosquitoes, Singapore’s environment agency carried out tests releasing male Aedes mosquitoes infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia. The bacteria, known to be harmless to humans, competes with viruses like dengue and Zika in Aedes mosquitoes. When these male Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes, which do not bite, pass the bacteria to their female counterparts, the latter will be infected with Wolbachia and are much less likely a carrier for dengue.  This suppression method is also used in 20 US states.  

Countries such as Vietnam and Brazil partnered with the World Health Organization  to use an alternative method that releases both male and female Wolbachia-infected Aedes mosquitoes. However, Singaporean microbiology and immunology professor Eng Eong Ooi explained that releasing a large population of female mosquitoes is risky, if these mosquitoes end up transmitting dengue or Zika despite being Wolbachia-infected.  

Despite using the Wolbachia method in communities with larger dengue clusters, reported dengue infections continue to rise to 1453 weekly cases in the week ending on July 4. Local researchers speculate that working from home puts people at a greater risk for the day active and urban loving species of the Aedes mosquito. 

“While no evidence has emerged proving a direct link, lockdowns could potentially have created an environment where mosquitoes are interacting more with the population than they would otherwise,” Dr Cameron Simmons, director of the Institute of Vector-Borne Disease at Monash University, told The Straits Times

For residents on the tropical island, their Covid-19 personal protective gear now has a necessary addition. 

“It’s hard because you feel like you are covered in sunblock and mosquito spray,” Stephanie Pakowitz, music teacher at an international school located near multiple dengue clusters, said. “And on top of that, you wear a mask.” 

 


Tags


Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020

COVID-19 hampers Fashion Week for photographers

Daniel Karel September 18, 2020

On the heels of revelation that Trump downplayed the covid threat, voters question rallies resuming

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 16, 2020

Overburdened mothers in Pakistan are relieved as schools reopens

Quratulain Tejani September 13, 2020

Students from different parts of the world struggle as schools reopen during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang September 12, 2020

Special needs students face learning obstacles during Covid-19

Courtney Guarino September 12, 2020

Back to school – COVID-19 style 

Isabel Beer September 12, 2020

The new normal for school life is abnormal in Michigan

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 11, 2020

California School District Parents and Teachers Clash About Return to School

Norah Hogan September 10, 2020

A tribute to the mask pioneers

Bohao Liu July 11, 2020

Air pollution in China rebounds to pre-COVID level

Hannah Zhang July 11, 2020

ICE takes aim at international students

Maria Abreu July 10, 2020

Chinese students trapped by new ICE policy

Zishu Sherry Qin July 10, 2020

New ICE policy adds more turmoil to the lives of international students

Shiyu Xu July 10, 2020

Lawsuits follow ICE policy barring international students who are taking online classes

Joanna Lin Su July 10, 2020

Economists say the US needs a bold, generous fiscal response. Congress is likely to disappoint. 

Ahmed Mohamed July 9, 2020

Overseas Singaporeans have pandemic obstacles to voting

Yifan Yu July 9, 2020

Proximity sensors and hygiene stations are the “new normal”

Joanna Lin Su July 9, 2020

 Tour ticket vendors miss the hustle and bustle of Times Square

Narkwor Kwabla July 8, 2020

Corporate bankruptcy: ‘A story that’s not going away’

Gaurav Sharma July 7, 2020

Beijing reopens as the second wave of coronavirus dies down

Hannah Zhang July 6, 2020

Masks or no masks?

Bohao Liu July 5, 2020

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020

A second wave of the coronavirus creates travel woes in Beijing

Hannah Zhang June 29, 2020