Singapore: Nation Battles Record Dengue Outbreak With More Mosquitoes

Singapore: Nation Battles Record Dengue Outbreak With More Mosquitoes

From the high balcony of a Singapore public housing block, an environment official steadies his mosquito launcher, the latest contraption authorities have devised to combat a record outbreak of the tropical disease dengue.

With the click of a button and a whir of a fan, a hatch opens and 150 lab-reared male mosquitoes are sent flying, off in search of a female companion with whom they can mate but not reproduce.

The dengue virus, which in rare cases can be fatal, is spread to humans by infected mosquitoes.

Singapore’s specially bred mosquitoes carry a bacteria that prevents eggs from hatching, leading to “a gradual reduction of the mosquito population,” said Ng Lee Ching, the official heading the Wolbachia project, named after the bacteria.

Some areas with high mosquito populations have seen up to 90% declines using this technique, she added.

Singapore had recorded more than 26,000 dengue cases as of September 2020, surpassing the previous annual record of about 22,000 in 2013. Through August 2020, 20 people had died of the disease, which can cause extreme fever that leads to internal bleeding and shock. 

A new strain of the disease, combined with unseasonably wet weather and coronavirus lockdowns that left construction sites and other mosquito breeding grounds undisturbed, are seen as factors behind the dengue outbreak.

The strategy the Wolbachia project uses has been successful in Australia but some experts say it might have limits in dense urban areas such as Singapore.  Reuters