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NEA to explore biological control methods to tackle dengue

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is exploring the use of biological control methods to control the spread of dengue in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) is exploring the use of biological control methods to control the spread of dengue in Singapore.

One of the techniques involves the use of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are infected with a certain bacteria, to control their population.

In this method, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are infected with wolbachia, which are a type of naturally occurring bacteria found in more than 60 per cent of insect species, such as butterflies and fruit flies. However, the Aedes aegypti mosquito does not carry this bacteria.

When a male mosquito infected with this bacteria mates with a female mosquito, they produce sterile eggs that do not hatch. This will then lead to a fall in the Aedes mosquito population, and help to curb the spread of dengue.

The use of such methods is being studied in countries such as Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia. NEA said it is monitoring the results of these overseas trials.

The NEA's Environment Health Institute has been carrying out laboratory research studies on this technology.

It is part of a larger programme aimed at curbing dengue transmission.

This is in light of the dengue challenge Singapore faces, especially during the hotter months from June to October, traditionally the peak season for dengue transmission.

During this period, the Aedes mosquitoes breed faster. The incubation period for the dengue virus they carry, is also shorter.

The number of dengue cases has been on the rise, from 292 cases in the week of May 11-17, to 461 cases in the week of June 1-7. 

NEA has appointed a panel of local and international experts to provide advice on new ways of dengue control, and their safety concerns.

The panel is chaired by epidemiologist and entomologist Professor Duane Gubler, who is the founding director of the Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore.

Panel members include entomologist Professor Stephen Higgs, research director of the Biosecurity Research Institute and associate vice president for research at Kansas State University; and epidemiologist Associate Professor Vernon Lee from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore. Professor Lee is also the head of the Singapore Armed Forces' Biodefence Centre.

Grace Fu, Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources, said: "The panel will review the latest scientific progress underlying these new modalities and evaluate the safety of using these new methods.

"Public health and safety are our paramount concern. We are here to make sure that the public's hygiene and health are maintained. We will only consider conducting such trials locally if we are convinced that the methods proposed are safe and effective."

Ms Fu was speaking at the launch of the "Do the Mozzie Wipeout" Campaign 2014 on Sunday.

Apart from residents, this year's campaign reaches out to more segments of the community, including outbound travellers and foreign workers.

They will be given educational materials to help them stay vigilant and take steps to prevent the disease.

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