There have been more than 9,000 cases and two deaths since January and dengue infections are expected to top 1,000 per week.
Authorities are particularly concerned as Singapore is at the beggining of the dengue season, which usually runs from June to August.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Dr Graham Harrison, World Health Organization representative in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore
HARRISON: Well this is unusual compared to the past but I think we need to understand that dengue is a difficult disease to deal with and we see increased outbreaks in other countries as well at different times. Exactly why it's occurred I guess you'd have to talk to the Singapore authorities to see what their analysis of the situation is that might have contributed to it. We have more than 90-thousand cases reported in our regions so far in 2013. And globally it's estimated more than 50-million infections occur annually, and that's the conservative estimate. So it's not surprising that we have outbreaks from time to time in different countries.
EWART: Now I gather the virus is showing signs of greater resistance, is that correct?
HARRISON: I personally don't have any information related to that, that's something that I would have to talk to my colleagues in Geneva and elsewhere about. But certainly we are concerned if that sort of thing were to happen, but so far I haven't been advised that that's a significant cause of the current increases.
EWART: Is there anything at this stage to suggest that because there has been this surge in Singapore that we could see similar surges elsewhere on your patch for example in Malaysia and Brunei?
HARRISON: Well it's possible. Currently this year the levels of dengue infections in Malaysia for example are around about the same total number for this time of year as they have been previously. There have been increases in Lao PDR for example and New Caledonia and the Solomons have had larger outbreaks this year, although I think the trend in those countries has now decreased. So it's not just a specific issue for Singapore, Malaysia that sort of area, right across the whole sort of western Pacific and the tropical and sub-tropical regions this is an issue.
EWART: Now one of the aspects of course of dengue fever as I understand it at least is that you can't vaccinate against it at this stage and therefore hence the reason why Singapore in particular is ultra cautious and is constantly telling its citizens to be careful in terms of avoiding leaving areas where mosquitoes can breed and so on and looking out for symptoms at the earliest possible signs. Are we any closer to finding a vaccination which might at least make the situation more manageable?
HARRISON: Well I understand a few vaccines are in trial, in clinical trials and so forth. But I don't have any specific knowledge about how that's proceeding and I guess we'll have to see how effective they prove at the end of the day. And hopefully we will end up with a vaccine but until we do it is an issue of basically trying to manage the mosquitoes and also from a personal perspective taking sufficient precautions so that you don't get bitten.
EWART: I've seen media reports suggesting that the government in Singapore is urging doctors to be more vigilant and certainly diagnose as soon as possible if patients show any sorts of symptoms. Is there a suggestion perhaps because of the relative ease of which Singapore has dealt with this problem in recent years that perhaps doctors and others may have become a little complacent thinking that we don't get dengue fever anymore, at least we don't get this number of cases?
HARRISON: Well I don't know what the attitudes of the Singapore practitioners are but dengue is certainly a disease that happens there from time to time so I don't imagine practitioners would be unaware of it. But I think it's prudent for the authorities to remind practitioners that they ought to be dealing with this and taking it as seriously as possible and acting on the side of caution to actually if they really consider that somebody might have it to get them tested and so forth and to follow that quite carefully.
EWART: But for now we should be cautious but not overly concerned about the situation?
HARRISON: Well it's a situation of concern, particularly if the number of cases each week continues to go up and so forth. Of course it affects people's lives and that. We hope that with people presenting early to their practitioners and with good clinical management we will see fewer deaths, and that has been happening in recent years. But for a small proportion of cases it can be a serious disease so we need to take it seriously. Hopefully in the coming years, decades perhaps we will have an effective vaccine. But until that time occurs I think communities need to be well aware of the need to ensure that mosquitoes don't breed around their houses and so forth. And that where appropriate they use insect repellent and basically to protect themselves to reduce the possibility they get bitten.