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Coronavirus

Singapore grapples with dengue fever while battling coronavirus

Near record cases of mosquito-borne illness strain overtaxed medical system

Singapore's government is using insecticides and other measures to try to rein in mosquito populations.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Singapore has been hit by an outbreak of dengue fever on pace to shatter records, adding to the burden on its health care infrastructure already taxed by growing coronavirus cases.

The country reported more than 20,000 dengue cases this year as of late July -- close to the full-year high of 22,170 in 2013. Infections are rising at the fastest-ever weekly pace.

The disease is widespread in Southeast Asia, and there is no effective vaccine or treatment. Some of the initial symptoms, including fever and body aches are similar to those of COVID-19, making them difficult to distinguish. And both diseases often cause no noticeable symptoms in patients, yet can be fatal in severe cases.

Hospitals are struggling to keep up with the simultaneous outbreaks. The government has so far kept the health care system from being overwhelmed by building beds for mild COVID-19 cases at locations including a container port and an exhibition center.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus itself is enabling dengue to spread more easily.

Singapore imposed a strict lockdown between April and June, and many people have continued working from home since then. Residents often leave windows open for relief from the city-state's consistently hot temperatures, which allows the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito to enter. Residential areas account for a large share of the more than 400 clusters of dengue cases Singapore has identified this year.

The spread of COVID-19 among foreign laborers has led to grass going uncut at parks, creating a more hospitable environment for mosquitoes, while standing water at idle construction sites gives them more places to breed.

According to the National Environment Agency, the most common type of dengue circulating in Singapore for much of 2020 has been DEN-3 -- a strain that had not predominated here for three decades, and one to which Singaporeans have little natural immunity.

The agency is working to control mosquito populations through steps including spraying pesticides and removing stagnant water.

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