This year's rise in dengue cases 'alarming': Experts

SINGAPORE - The first to die was only 20, an ITE graduate. Now dengue has claimed a 60-year-old man from Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3, a hot spot.

And every day the wet and hot conditions contribute to an increasing number of people hit by dengue fever.

Although the numbers are not as frightening as in 2005 when 19 died and close to 14,000 developed dengue fever, more than 9,100 people this year have already been diagnosed with it.

And the message from everyone including pest busters to doctors, former patients and Members of Parliament - they are worried. Dr Frederick Goh, director of Carrington Medical Centre, said this year's rise is alarming.

From being largely concentrated in the east and some parts in the middle of the island, the scourge has now spread to the west. In January, about 300 people were diagnosed with dengue. By April, that figure had jumped to more than 4,700 cases. Two months later, it almost doubled.

Dr Goh said: "People need to realise dengue is something there's no direct treatment (antibiotic) for. We need to watch out for complications from dengue, such as bleeding or even dengue haemorrhagic fever."

The latest victim to die read the signals right. But it was too late. He had gone to Tan Tock Seng Accident and Emergency department last Wednesday with fever, shortness of breath, vomiting and rash on his left leg.

He was diagnosed with skin inflammation on his leg and given antibiotics. He was also given an appointment to return to the polyclinic for another blood test.

Two days later, he went back with difficulty standing due to weakness in his left leg, along with continuing fever and appetite loss. He was admitted to the general ward and tested positive for dengue on Saturday. The same day, he was transferred to the intensive care unit and died yesterday.

ITE graduate Ang Yong Han, 20, had died from dengue 1½ weeks ago.

Higher risk for elderly to succumb to disease

Higher risk for elderly to succumb to disease

Dr Goh, who has handled several cases at his clinic near King's Close, a hot spot, said: "The awareness is there, when people have fever they will seek medical help instead of just taking panadol at home."

When patients with fever find they don't have any symptoms they can attribute to other diseases, they're also more willing to do a blood test for dengue, he said.

"If you don't diagnose it early, you won't be watching out for this."

Dr Ki, the owner of Ki Medical Clinic in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, said he's worried too. He said the number of dengue patients has been rising, without seeming to plateau.

"More clusters in Singapore means a higher chance of more contracting the disease," he said.

He has had 20 per cent more patients with dengue symptoms since last month.

"We should all be worried, especially when it comes to symptoms like fever without flu-like symptoms - along with headaches, joint pain, bleeding from gums or rashes. Those with these symptoms should seek medical attention."

He said dengue seems to affect younger people more, but if older people are affected by it and have other medical conditions like diabetes or heart problems, there's a higher risk of succumbing to the disease.

Monitoring dengue situation

Four hospitals The New Paper approached said they are monitoring the dengue situation closely.

But for now, there is no need to postpone elective surgery. In 2005, some elective surgery had to be postponed to deal with the increased caseload.

Changi General Hospital said they had been seeing a steady increase in Accident and Emergency attendances for dengue or suspected dengue cases since January this year, though most cases are mild and only one in five patients are admitted.

"Postponement of electives is carried out when necessary after weighing the risk and prioritising based on the clinical needs of patients," a spokesman said.

Ang Mo Kio MP Seng Han Thong said awareness and inspection is in place.

"Town councils and the National Environment Agency (NEA) have been speeding up the cleaning of parks to ensure there's no breeding grounds for dengue," he said.

Hougang MP Png Eng Huat said his residents are concerned and vigilant, and the NEA has been doing its rounds.

"Hougang has a lot of construction works going on and that is a concern. I'm distributing NEA dengue brochures and asking residents to help keep Hougang safe for everyone," he said.

Marine Parade MP Tin Pei Ling said she and her grassroots team take a very serious view towards dengue, and all hands are on deck dealing with it.

She gives out material on dengue during her weekly block visits; on top of that, she conducts special block visits to hand out pamphlets to residents, she said.

A resident in the Yew Tee hot spot, land surveyor Toh Keng Yew, 56, said the NEA inspected his house on Friday and have been going all over the neighbourhood. The Residents' Committee has been active in putting up posters everywhere, and neighbours remind each other to be cautious, he said.

His neighbour, a nurse in her 50s who declined to be named, said her 21-year-old daughter had a fever last Wednesday, but it turned out to be Chikungunya, which made them "very relieved".

Since then, they've been closing all the windows and spraying insecticide around the house.

Owner of Pest Busters Thomas Fernandez said 35 per cent of the inquires he gets are mosquito related, up from 5 to 10 per cent before the dengue outbreak.

"Most Singaporeans are more interested in termites attacking their property than dengue control. But because of this, landed properties have also been taking up mosquito control."

Weather over the next 10 days is expected to be a mixture of rain and hot sun (up to almost 33 deg C, understood to be conducive for mosquito breeding).

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