Singapore residents more worried over dengue

Photo above: Ms Mary Tan, 71, a cleaner, places her plants on stands to keep them elevated and prevent water from collecting. She also sprays pesticide weekly and checks the area outside her house every morning to ensure it is dry.

SINGAPORE - When patients are informed they have dengue, fear, worry and confusion are just some of the emotions they experience.

"They remember the deaths in 2005, and dengue is such a big thing now. Some also blame nearby construction sites or their neighbours," said Healthway Medical Group medical board chairman Philip Koh.

Increased awareness of dengue has led to greater uncertainty of how residents should be reacting to the threat.

In one week, 30 to 40 per cent of patients at Healthway's Tampines clinic come with dengue-related concerns, double the figure a month ago.

One of the first questions patients with flu-like symptoms ask Dr Koh is "do I have dengue?"

"Some patients are paranoid - they come in with mosquito bites even though they don't have other dengue symptoms," said Dr Koh.

Others have turned to the National Environment Agency (NEA) to raise their concerns, leading to a massive spike in feedback this year.

The NEA said that up until April 14, it had more than 2,000 e-mails and calls about potential breeding grounds. Numbers in recent weeks have been up 150 per cent from last year's average.

Residents raise concerns largely about potential breeding spots in construction sites or nearby premises suspected of being vacant, abandoned or "unkempt", with drains and overgrown vegetation. NEA officers will follow up and update the resident within five working days, said an NEA spokesman.

Dengue infections reached a record high this year. Last week alone, there were 492 cases.

Experts have also warned that numbers could continue to rise as the warmer months of May to August - the typical peak season for dengue - approach.

The agency's 850 officers have been conducting daily checks in homes and are even trying to accommodate residents' busy schedules by arranging inspections on public holidays.

Yet, the level of concern continues to rise. A resident at Kovan e-mailed the NEA and The Straits Times about a vacant house in the area with overgrown vegetation and discarded items, which he felt may be a potential breeding area.

NEA officers have made several unsuccessful attempts at contacting the owner and might have to consider entering by force as the last resort. The NEA has entered six units by force in the last two years - three of which, at Block 267, Tampines Street 21, took place in the last three weeks. The block has reported 34 dengue cases.

Other residents have taken more active means to eradicate the threat of dengue. Bank executuve Fionna Zhang, 48, a resident of Blk 267 in Tampines, worked with the town council to remove illegal plantings around the block which may be dengue breeding grounds. She said: "It's not just about calling NEA. Citizens have to take responsibility and do what is best for the community."

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