Friday, May 25, 2007

Singapore's health minister says dengue outbreak worsened by spread of new strain

May 24, 3:18 AM EDT
Singapore's health minister says dengue outbreak worsened by spread of new strain
By GILLIAN WONG Associated Press Writer
AP Photo/Wong Maye-e
SINGAPORE (AP) -- A strain of dengue new to Singapore is impeding efforts to stem the spread of the mosquito-borne disease that has infected hundreds in the affluent city-state this year, a top health official said Thursday.
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the current rise in infections, including a record 210 cases last week and one fatality, evoked memories of a 2005 epidemic that killed 25 in the tropical island-nation of 4.5 million.
"I'm quite worried about the dengue trend," Khaw told reporters on the sidelines of an infectious diseases exhibition.
Authorities said earlier this week that Singapore recorded a nearly 50 percent increase in dengue infections in the first 4-1/2 months of this year compared to the same period in 2006.
Dengue cases reported from the start of January to May 12 rose to 1,488 - up from 993 in the corresponding period last year, the Health Ministry said.
Singapore defines an epidemic as more than 378 cases a week, local media reported.
The disease, which causes joint pain, high fever, nausea and a rash, is endemic to the region. In severe cases, it leads to internal bleeding and sometimes death.
Khaw said the emergence in Singapore of a different dominant type of dengue was compounding the problem.
"What is a little against us is because of the strain, the strain type. It is ... largely new to the population here," Khaw said. "It's troublesome because many people have no current, existing immunity."
The dengue virus now predominant in Singapore is believed to be the same as in neighboring Indonesia, and is different from the main active strain in Singapore over the past few years, according to local media reports.
Those previously infected with other types of dengue are not immune, and may even face a higher risk of complications when infected with a different strain, The Straits Times newspaper said.
Health officials have been combing public housing estates in search of mosquito breeding sites. Dengue-carrying insects can breed in tiny pools of water found in flower pots, discarded bottles or cans, or old tires.
The Health Ministry said the recent spike in infections is likely due to warmer weather during this period of the year, which is conducive for breeding mosquitoes and the spread of dengue.
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