Dengue war hots up as HK eyes spraying planes

Top News | Mary Ann Benitez in Manila 12 Oct 2016

Singapore will next month test the use of bacteria to reduce the ability of mosquitoes to transmit dengue, and Hong Kong is considering spraying all planes landing in the SAR.

This comes after the World Health Organization's regional director declared the mosquito-borne disease reached a "crisis point" in the Western Pacific region, with more than 7,000 dengue-related deaths and 2.8 million cases reported from 2008-2015.

Health ministers from some of the 37 member-states discussed the new 2016 plan for dengue that would refocus on vector control.

Singapore's Minister of State for Health, Lam Pin Min, said the country has a new tool, which is the "use of Wolbachia-carrying male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to help suppress the Aedes mosquito population."

Wolbachia is a commonly occurring bacteria in about 80 percent of insects, including mosquito species.

Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Western Pacific Region's coordinator for malaria and other vector-borne and parasitic diseases, told The Standard yesterday: "We find that when Aedes mosquitoes are infected with some species of Wolbachia, they lose their ability to transmit dengue.

"That would require that we artificially introduce Wolbachia into the mosquitoes."

The project is led by University of Melbourne, with a trial going on in Cairns city in Queensland, as well as in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

"WHO recently looked at the evidence that has come out of those trials and we recommended that they can be expanded to other countries and on a large geographical scale," Abeyasinghe said.

Singapore is rolling out Wolbachia- infected mosquitoes next month, he added. Another promising method is the use of genetic manipulation of mosquitoes so they cannot transmit dengue.

Malaysia's health chief Subramaniam Sathasivam said while there has been much research on Zika, "very little or no coordinated global effort has been implemented to combat dengue disease."

Dengue is recognized as one of the 17 neglected tropical diseases, he said.

Hong Kong's assistant director of health (health administration and planning), Ronald Lam Man-kin, said the government is exploring the option of "disinsecting incoming aircraft as an additional means of vector control."

Undersecretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said dengue has not become endemic in Hong Kong although there have been local cases this year.

"The most important thing is we contain the local spread, otherwise it will be like Singapore, with lots of cases of dengue and Zika," she said.

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