Singapore’s dengue emergency is a climate change warning sign

The Southeast Asian city-state has already exceeded 11,000 cases -- far beyond the 5,258 it reported throughout 2021 -- and that was before June 1, when its peak dengue season traditionally begins.
Singapore’s dengue emergency is a climate change warning sign
Representative imageIANS

SINGAPORE: Singapore says it is facing a dengue "emergency" as it grapples with an outbreak of the seasonal disease that has come unusually early this year.

The Southeast Asian city-state has already exceeded 11,000 cases -- far beyond the 5,258 it reported throughout 2021 -- and that was before June 1, when its peak dengue season traditionally begins.

Experts are warning that it's a grim figure not only for Singapore -- whose tropical climate is a natural breeding ground for the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus -- but also for the rest of the world. That's because changes in the global climate mean such outbreaks are likely to become more common and widespread in the coming years, CNN reported.

"[Cases] are definitely rising faster," said Singapore's minister for home affairs Desmond Tan on the sidelines of a neighbourhood inspection for dengue mosquitoes. "It's an urgent emergency phase now that we have to deal with."

The outbreak in Singapore has been made worse by recent extreme weather, experts say, and its problem could be a harbinger of what is to come elsewhere as more countries experience prolonged hot weather spells and thundery showers that help to spread both the mosquitoes and the virus they carry.

"The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries," the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a global dengue report in January 2022, noting that cases had increased "30 fold in the last 50 years."

Singapore's dengue surge is the result of multiple factors like the recent warm, wet weather as well as a new dominant virus strain, said Ruklanthi de Alwis, a senior research fellow at the Duke-NUS Medical School and an expert in emerging infectious diseases, CNN reported.

But climate change, she said, was likely to make things worse. "Past predictive modeling studies have shown that global warming due to climate change will eventually expand the geographical areas (in which mosquitoes thrive) as well as the length of dengue transmission seasons," de Alwis said.

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