Dengue prevention stifled by coronavirus

Many countries are struggling to deal with dengue fever at the same time as coronavirus.
Many countries are struggling to deal with dengue fever at the same time as coronavirus.

Government efforts to stop the global spread of the coronavirus have had another unwanted side-effect - hampering the control of dengue fever.

Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia have dealt with concurrent outbreaks of dengue and coronavirus this year. In Brazil, where there are over 1.6 million COVID-19 infections, at least 1.1 million cases of dengue have been reported, with nearly 400 deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organisation.

Dengue cases are likely to rise soon with the start of seasonal rains in Latin American countries like Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica, as well as the South Asian countries of India and Pakistan.

The mosquito-borne disease typically isn't fatal, but severe cases may require hospitalisation. It's also known as "breakbone fever" for its severely painful symptoms.

Prevention efforts targeted at destroying mosquito-breeding sites such as trash and old tires holding stagnant water are still the best ways to curb the spread of the disease. But coronavirus lockdowns and other restrictions have meant that these efforts have been reduced or stopped altogether in many countries.

Experts say disrupting such prevention efforts is ominous for the global battle against dengue.

The World Health Organisation says 2019 was the worst year on record for dengue cases, with every region affected, and some countries hit for the first time.

Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads dengue, is most prevalent in cities, and experts warn that increased urbanisation and warming temperatures due to climate change means that its range will keep increasing.

Staying home -- one way to slow outbreaks of COVID-19, especially in cities -- poses greater risks for spreading dengue, said Singapore's National Environment Agency. That's because the Aedes mosquito bites during the day, and with more people staying home, where mosquito populations are high, the more likely they are to be bitten.

The NEA says the number of cases this year is expected to exceed the 22,170 cases reported in 2013, which at the time was the largest dengue outbreak in Singapore's history.

Australian Associated Press