The War Against Dengue Part 1: A Soldier’s Story

In the early days of my National Service, during a lunchbreak in a field exercise, I noticed my Company Sergeant Major (CSM) standing some distance away from everyone else, holding a small white paper cone with a look of slow, calm concentration around him. Curious, I moved closer to him and peered into the paper cone he was holding.

In the cone was a pile of dead mosquitoes.

“37 so far,” he said. Then he suddenly made a fist in the air, and dropped another mosquito into the cone. “38.”

I looked at him in wonder. Then I asked, “Why, Encik?”

My CSM smiled. “I collect 99 dead mosquitoes. Then I trap one last live mosquito into the cone and leave it in there with its dead friends for a while. After that, I let it go so it will send the message to the other mosquitoes not to bite me because of what it saw.”

For many years after, I wondered about that moment – a lot. Particularly a month before my son’s 1st birthday, which I’ll come back to in another post.

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But then a short while back, I had the privilege to attend a dengue prevention volunteer training workshop and house visit held in Yishun, jointly organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the People’s Association (PA), and delivered to varied sections of residents, Yishun Town Council’s contract cleaners and grassroots volunteers from the PA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Nee Soon Central Zone 6 Resident’s Committee. In order for the volunteers and residents to gain proper footing of the facts before spreading awareness around the estate, the NEA wanted to cover as much ground as possible to explain the current dengue epidemic that Singapore is trying to contend with, and a comprehensive list of Aedes mosquito breeding hotspots that residents need to watch out for, both within their own homes and around their communal environment.

The History Behind the Urgency

From the data presented in the workshop, this country’s seen dengue outbreaks on a very regular basis – every 2 to 3 years since 2005, NEA has kept track of dengue outbreak peaks, each involving one of four different serotypes of the disease, and each outbreak a different “serotype”, or strain, than the last.

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What’s important about this little nugget of information is that while our bodies can build immunity against any given dengue serotype, unlike chicken pox or measles, we can contract dengue fever multiple times, because there are 4 serotypes we have to contend with. This was explained to us by an NEA rep when fellow dad blogger Edmund Tay shared at a roundtable discussion that he contracted dengue fever twice; once in 2005 and again in 2008.

Also, the wave of each outbreak tends to start from the east side of the island and move its way to the west, which explains why we were all at Yishun that day, since Singapore’s well into its current – and worst – outbreak.

Your Home, the Warzone

If you were one of those that thought the recent haze would have cleared out the mosquitoes like a cross-border fogging courtesy of our kind neighbours, NEA informed us that 70% of Aedes mosquitoes breed indoors. So quite aside from the fact that there’s no evidence that a PSI level of 401 would suffocate the little killers, it seems we may well be unknowingly ensuring the survival of the Aedes lineage whilst protecting ourselves from the bad air by closing our windows at home.

aedes-stages

You may have heard of the 10-minute (or 5-step) Mozzie Wipeout. I remember the TV ads, radio announcements and flyers in my mailbox, continuously reminding us to check our flower pots, clear our drains and gutters and turn our pails over. (I also remember?resenting the term “mozzie” being used so endearingly for what I know now to be the one animal species “responsible for killing more humans than any other animal on the planet”.)?but what is less known about the importance of keeping tabs on the water collecting around our living space is that mosquito eggs (they look like black specks of nondescript dirt to the naked eye, and are usually laid just above water lines) can last up to 9 months without touching water, but once they do, they hatch into mosquito larvae, and as you can see, baby “mozzies” are not cute at all.

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To date, The Blogfather has yet to personally test out whether mosquitoes are really susceptible to the kind of psychological trauma my CSM was trying to inflict. But if you ask me, the preventive measures as put forth by the NEA make a heck of a lot more sense. They’ve provided a whole library of resources not only to educate the public on protecting themselves against dengue, but also to keep track of the ongoing epidemic. If you’re interested in keeping abreast of Singapore’s dengue situation, give the troopers a “like” on their Stop Dengue Now Facebook page for more info, tips and updates on Singapore’s ongoing war against dengue. You can also pay them a visit at?http://www.dengue.gov.sg/?to find out more about why you’ve already joined the war.

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