Dengue in the era of COVID

While the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to capture all our attention, an arguably more deadly disease which has always been endemic in Singapore continues to wreak its havoc. Often hiding behind the symptoms of COVID-19. This is dengue.

Dengue has been endemic in our shores for as long as our history. As recent as 2019, 15,998 cases of dengue were reported and a total of 20 people died from it. As frightening as these numbers may be, they pale in comparison to the situation developing this year. We are halfway through the year and already the National Environment agency has reported a cumulative total of 12,539 cases of dengue and 12 people have succumbed to the disease. 1,375 cases of dengue were reported in the week ending 20th June. That is almost 200 cases of dengue every single day. The most number of dengue cases ever reported in Singapore was 22,170 cases in 2013 and 2020 looks well placed to break this unenviable record. 

To make matters worse, as we enter the warmer months of the year, the breeding and maturation cycle of the Aedes mosquito accelerates. This means they will reproduce faster resulting in an increase in the number of insect vectors that transmit dengue. In addition, due to the shift in the strain the risk of dengue haemorrhagic fever, the deadly form of dengue, is higher as cross-immunity to different strains are only partial.

It is difficult for doctors to differentiate between the 2 diseases. Dengue and COVID-19 share many similar symptoms for example fever, muscle aches, cough, sore throat and running nose. Given the attention currently heaped on COVID-19, both the patient as well as the physician have to consciously maintain a high level of suspicion for dengue and not be swept up by the publicity.

“As long as it is not COVID” – is not OK. Furthermore, it is absolutely possible that a patient is suffering from both dengue and COVID-19 simultaneously making it even more challenging for a doctor to diagnose. As if all these were not bad enough, a final complication exists which is the blood tests for dengue are not always accurate. This was very well illustrated by a local case report of a patient who presented to his doctor with fever and muscle aches and subsequently tested positive on a dengue test. On further testing, the patient was eventually diagnosed with COVID-19 and it was discovered his initial dengue test was falsely positive. Other supporting blood tests like platelet counts and liver function tests can also show the same abnormalities in both patients who suffer from dengue and patients who suffer from COVID-19 so are also rather unhelpful.

Dengue is not spread from person to person like COVID-19. A mosquito stings a person with dengue and sucks the dengue parasite along with the blood from its victim into itself. Mosquitos do not fall sick from dengue. They fly along to another person and while stinging them, transmits the dengue virus. This means that while social distancing can protect us from COVID-19, it does nothing to protect us from dengue. Dengue can be spread as far as the mosquito can fly. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an almost perfect storm for dengue to spread. Just like COVID-19, there is currently no effective way to cure dengue. And just like COVID-19 the solution to the pandemic is to stop its spread. To stop the spread of dengue, we need to stop mosquitoes from breeding. This is where we all have to play our part. As much as we would like to blame the empty construction yards, the reality is it is homes that form the bulk of mosquito breeding grounds. In a single dengue cluster in Singapore, 84% of homes were found to be breeding Aedes mosquitoes. It is up to every one of us to ensure that our homes as well as common areas do not serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Quote from NEA:

Homeowners and occupants are strongly urged to do their part and pay close attention to any mosquito breeding or adult mosquitoes present in their homes, take the necessary steps to prevent or remove them, and protect themselves from mosquitos’ bites.

These include:

  1. Regularly doing the Mozzie Wipeout and removing any stagnant water in homes;
    • Turn the pail
    • Tip the vase
    • Flip the flower pot plate
    • Loosen the hardened soil
    • Clear the roof gutter and drains within compounds, and place Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) insecticide inside
  2. Spraying insecticide at dark corners of the home, for example under the sofa and bed, behind the curtains and in the toilets
  3.  Applying mosquito repellent to protect themselves from mosquito bites
  4. Using mosquito screens
  5. Using spatial mosquito repellent (e.g. mosquito coil) in well-ventilated areas of the home.

NEA has published two educational videos to guide residents on the spraying of aerosol insecticide at home , and what to do if one lives in a dengue cluster area or sees mosquitoes at home.

Rapid COVID-19 Testing is available.

Dengue Vaccination – Is it suitable for you?


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Speak to your doctor for more information or if you have any questions regarding Dengue Rapid Testing or other Dengue related topics: Dengue in the era of COVID, Dengue Fever Symptoms? Dengue Fever What You Need to Know, Why the recent resurgence in Dengue Fever?, ZIKA IS AN STD!! – Battling the STD Stigma