Tampines resident annoys neighbours with personal dengue crusade

SINGAPORE - She went floor to floor with her husband, knocking on her neighbours' doors, to spread the anti-dengue message.

Ms Fionna Zhang (above), 48, has taken it upon herself to ensure that her Tampines block is free of mosquito breeding grounds.

She was especially worried when she heard in early March that some of her neighbours had denied entry to National Environment Agency (NEA) officials to inspect their homes.

Her block - Block 267 in Tampines Street 21 - is the hardest hit among all the Tampines blocks, with 34 residents falling ill to dengue as of yesterday.

"The NEA people don't live here, they don't know the people in the neighbourhood. There are a lot of senior citizens who get frightened when they see strangers at the door, some think they are insurance agents so they shut the door, resulting in the problem," said the bank executive.

"Even if they don't know me personally, they know my face so they will open the door. I make use of that advantage to pave the way for NEA so that the next time they knock on a door, residents will let them in."

She also updates a poster daily at the block's ground floor lift landing on the number of dengue cases that has occurred in that neighbourhood.

But her efforts to keep the epidemic at bay have upset some residents.

A corner planting area just beneath the block is now gone after she worked with the town council to have it removed.

She said a resident, who planted a banana tree there, scolded her for doing that.

Said Ms Zhang: "But I have to do it, otherwise they become potential breeding grounds. This block is NEA's biggest worry."

Another resident in her 50s, the owner of a provision shop beneath the block, is also not a fan. She said: "Sometimes, I happen to look outside my shop and I see her stepping on other people's plants. It's so rude, I even yelled at her once to stop doing that but she doesn't care."

The resident declined to be named.

Grateful

Two other residents that The New Paper spoke to also said Ms Zhang is an unpopular resident in the area.

But one resident, a 55-year-old woman, said she is grateful to her.

"It's very kind of her as a neighbour to check on us, we are very well taken care of. When she told me that it was her (who got rid of the planting area), I was very impressed, it was very unsightly," said the woman, who did not want to be named.

The rise in dengue fever has also affected business in the area.

Tampines Street 12, 21, 22 and 82 to 84 are among the dengue hot spots listed on the NEA's dengue website.

Sales at a provision shop at Block 267 have dropped by 20 to 30 per cent since the outbreak.

The owner, Mr Chew Sim, said: "People don't dare to come out at night any more for fear of mosquitoes.

"There used to be kids playing basketball here, but now their parents don't allow them to. They have seen what's on the news and they're scared."

The zi char stall beside it has also seen business dip by at least 10 to 20 per cent, said Madam Khong Swee Chin, a co-owner of the stall.

Dr Colin Lim, the general practitioner of a clinic at Block 267, said he has diagnosed so many patients with dengue fever that he has lost count. Just two days ago, two of his patients had come down with dengue.

Over at Tampines Street 83 and 84, there is a banner behind Tampines Central Community Club notifying people about the number of dengue cases in the area. There are also similar posters at lift lobbies in Street 83.

Mixed reactions

Resigned

Of the residents surveyed, reactions to the dengue epidemic are mixed.

Said a housewife, who wanted to be known as Mrs Ng: "I don't feel safe letting my children go out at night, since mosquitoes come out after dark.

"I feel very worried every time my family members get a new insect bite."

Another resident, Mr Fong, a 78-year-old retiree who has two grandchildren in primary school, said: "Of course (I'm scared)! I'm doing more as there are children at home, we bought a lot of mosquito repellent.

"My granddaughter has been bitten so many times, but we don't think it's dengue. I'll spray repellent on my grandchildren every time they go out, just in case."

But some residents are resigned. Mr Seng, a retiree, said: "If it happens, there's nothing we can do. I live right behind the construction site and so many people have been getting dengue around my block."

A construction site foreman, who declined to be named, said they were fined twice for having mosquito-breeding conditions.


DENGUE Q&A

Number of dengue cases reported in the last 10 days (April 21 to 30): 729

Total number of dengue cases this year: 5,382 for the first 17 weeks of this year

Dengue hot spots: Tampines Street 12, 21 and 22, Yishun Industrial Street 1 and Street 23, Tampines Avenue 8, Tampines Street 82 to 84.

How do you know if you have dengue fever?

One of the earliest symptoms of dengue fever is a sudden onslaught of fever about four to seven days after getting bitten by an Aedes mosquito. It can last up to seven days. It is accompanied by intense headache, body aches, joint pains, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and the development of skin rashes.

What treatments are there for dengue fever?

There is currently no vaccine for it and the Health Ministry's website says there is no specific treatment.

- Audrey Kang


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