May 28, 2007 / 11:51 AM / 12 years ago

Developing Asia needs tough stance on dengue: expert

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Developing countries in Southeast Asia need to use tough laws in their fight against dengue, a leading expert said, so that homes and building sites do not provide breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Duane J. Gubler, director of Asia-Pacific Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, said Singapore’s use of inspections and fines had helped reduce the incidence of dengue in the city-state and set an example for other countries.

“If every country in the region could control mosquitoes like Singapore has, I doubt you will see a problem,” Gubler said in a phone interview from Hawaii, where he is based.

Fumigation of mosquito breeding grounds and public co-operation are both key to reducing dengue, he said.

Dengue is endemic in several countries in the region including Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Singapore conducts spot checks of construction sites and homes, and contractors and residents can be punished if any mosquito larvae are found on the premises, with fines ranging from S$100 ($66) to S$20,000 ($13,100).

The city-state also conducts public health programs to ensure that people do not allow water to collect in places where mosquitoes can breed.

This has cut the incidence of homes where mosquitoes were found to less than 2 percent from 60 percent in the 1960s.

Gubler, 68, who has advised the World Health Organization (WHO) on dengue for about 25 years, has had dengue three times himself. On one occasion, he contracted the disease after a lab experiment in which he tried to get an infected mosquito to suck blood from a monkey, but was instead bitten himself.

Gubler said most Asian governments only set aside a “pittance” to tackle dengue, saying “these countries have not taken dengue seriously.”

While Singapore has the best anti-dengue program in the world along with Cuba, according to Gubler, the city-state has still not managed to stamp put dengue.

Gubler, who has advised Singapore’s anti-dengue efforts since 2005, said that as people travel more frequently and more widely, they are more likely to spread the disease across borders.

The number of dengue cases in Singapore this month is nearly three times the number in the same period a year ago, according to the government, which says warmer weather is partly to blame.

Between May 13 and May 19, the city-state reported 210 dengue cases, the highest weekly figure this year, but below the weekly record of 714 cases which was reported in September in 2005.

Dengue occurs mainly in the tropics and is transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. The virus spreads across borders when infected travelers are bitten by local mosquitoes that go on to bite someone else.

The disease affects about 50 million people around the world every year, according to WHO. There are no vaccines for dengue, which has flu-like symptoms such as fever and pain in the joints, and can be fatal.

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