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Singapore’s dengue ’emergency’ is a climate change omen for the world


(CNN) 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.

Dengue is not a pleasant disease. It causes flu-like symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches and body pains. In extreme cases, bleeding, breathing difficulties, organ failure and even death can occur.

“[Cases] are definitely rising faster,” said Singapore’s minister for home affairs Desmond Tan on the sidelines of a neighborhood 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.”

“Not only is the number of cases increasing as the disease spreads to new areas but explosive outbreaks are occurring.”

In 2019, the world recorded a record 5.2 million cases of dengue, according to the WHO, and outbreaks across Asia that year killed thousands. In the Philippines, hundreds died and millions more were put at risk as the country declared a national dengue epidemic; in Bangladesh, hospitals were overwhelmed; and in Afghanistan, transmission was recorded for the first time ever.

Singapore’s worst dengue outbreak in history came the following year, when it recorded 35,315 cases and 28 deaths.

This year, Singapore — where dengue has been endemic for decades — has so far seen just one dengue death but with the rising number of cases authorities are taking no chances.
“As of May 28, 2022, about 11,670 dengue cases had been reported this year — [with] about 10% of cases requiring hospitalization,” a spokesperson from Singapore’s Ministry of Health told CNN.

Dengue admissions at hospital emergency departments were increasing due to the recent surge, the spokesperson said, but remained at “a manageable level.”

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