Updated: 08/05/2014 02:33

NEA looking at new strategies to combat dengue

NEA looking at new strategies to combat dengue

The National Environment Agency is looking into new strategies to combat the current dengue epidemic. 

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan says one such method is the use of the Wolbachia bacteria. 

"When a male mosquito infected with Wolbachia bacteria mates with a female mosquito, no viable progeny is produced. We are currently studying the feasibility of using such Wolbachia infected male aedes aegypti mosquitoes, in order to suppress the overall population of mosquitoes in Singapore."

Dr Balakrishnan says he's appointed a dengue expert advisory panel to study the safety and effectiveness of this technique in a local context. 

Another method is a new dengue vaccine marketed by a French pharmaceutical firm. 

But Dr Balakrishnan says that it's not good enough for Singapore. 

In clinical trials, its effectiveness against Type 1 dengue virus - the most common strain here - was 50 per cent. 

And in Type 2, it was a mere 35 per cent. 

"Until further clinical data is available for us to be sure that the benefits outweigh the risks, I don't think the Ministry of Health or HSA will rush into approving the vaccine. So I think the precautionary principle has to apply. Although I agree that the long-term solution to dengue is a vaccine, we need to spend more work to get the right vaccine out there and assure ourselves that it's safe before we can issue it."

In the meantime, mosquito elimination remains a primary strategy. 

The National Environment Agency has conducted nearly 2 million dengue inspections this year. 

It has also deployed more than 1,000 gravitraps in dengue clusters for mosquito-control purposes.

There have been more than 12,000 reported dengue cases so far this year. 

Dr Balakrishnan says poor housekeeping at construction sites poses a dengue risk to workers and residents living in nearby areas. 

This year alone, the NEA has issued 62 stop-work orders to dengue-hit sites, and slapped fines ranging from $200 on homeowners to $39,000 on contractors.

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