Hougang is latest dengue hot spot

SINGAPORE - With more than 100 ongoing cases of dengue fever, Hougang is the latest hot spot for the mosquito-borne disease.

A four-day operation by 150 officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) to comb the area and halt the spread was in effect.

They covered some 28,000 households in the operation, which ended on Sunday.

On Saturday, Minister from the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu and the MP for the Punggol South ward in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, visited homes in Block 558, Hougang Street 51, which is in the cluster that has the highest number of infections in Hougang.

NEA officers have found 66 breeding spots from their inspections in Hougang since Jan 23, when the first cluster emerged.

Hougang now has seven active clusters with 109 infections - second only to Telok Kurau, which has 123 people with dengue currently.

Islandwide, there are 31 clusters, with nearly 200 new cases reported last week. This number exceeds the epidemic threshold of 165 cases a week, and comes after a record 322 new weekly cases were reported earlier this month.

Ms Fu noted that most residents were aware of the dengue threat but not everyone was up to task on the precautions to take.

"We have seen some water plates which perhaps were not checked," said Ms Fu, who is also Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources.

Those who are still sick should take care to prevent themselves from getting bitten, she added.

"Mosquitoes get the virus from people who have dengue," she said. "So it is important to stop that chain of transmission."

Hougang resident Yang Wen Ting, 28, said her family is concerned about the current outbreak.

"My dad went around checking and turning over the flowerpots along the walkways - even for the neighbours," said the student.

Meanwhile, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has urged the public to be on the alert.

"Dengue is a clear and present danger confronting Singapore," he said on the sidelines of an event in Bedok on Saturday.

Seven out of 10 breeding spots are found in homes, said the minister.

"So the key point is to check your own home, your own backyard, your own containers, your own pails," he added.

A spike in dengue fever at this time of the year is unusual, given its peak period is between April and October.

NEA chief executive Andrew Tan pointed to the upward trend of a less common serotype of the disease as a possible reason.

This serotype, the DEN-2, accounts for more than half of the current cases islandwide.

However, based on blood tests, the DEN-1 strain has been rising steadily from 5 per cent last September to 23 per cent last month. The final strain in circulation is DEN-3.

With fewer people exposed to the DEN-2 strain before, there is low immunity in the community, explained Mr Tan.

"But if everyone plays a part by not letting mosquitoes breed or getting bitten, I think we can arrest this current dengue outbreak and bring the figures down," he added.

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