Monday, 16 June 2008

An Unpronounceable Disease

MosquitoSingapore's tropical climate could support all sorts of nasty diseases but mostly doesn't because of consistent investment in prevention schemes. Monthly fogging and oiling of drains, rubbish chutes and manholes keep mosquito breeding in check as it's the Aedes mozzie that is the transmission vector for Dengue fever.

The NEA have patrols out checking for pools and pots with standing water. More senior staff do house to house visits and they do fine persistent offenders but a $1,000 fine for repeatedly putting lives at risk seems a poor deterrent. My current estate agent lady casually mentioned she had Dengue and was laid up for a week. It doesn't kill many people who have access to health care but it's no holiday.

Since January this year, a new mozzie-borne virus with very similar symptoms has been found: Chikungunya. All the initial patients were in the Little India area, and it makes sense that when transmitted by mozzies with a 250m range of movement, the disease tends to stay put.

The problem with Chikungunya is the name; no-one I know can remember it properly and you end up saying something which rhymes, like Chumbawamba, and your co-conversationalist nods without attempting a better rendition.

So there's a nasty disease with a public relations problem. The doctor who discovered and named SARS (and died of it) knew what the world needed; a tight, catchy name people could remember. AIDS, MRSA, Bird flu, TB; all examples of successful branding.

Chikungunya is now moving around; an expat got it in Thompson Road, then Farrer Road and now a mutation means it can be carried by the Asian Tiger mozzie as well. But the most depressing piece of the ST article was not the local biotech firm pledging to start work on a vaccine, but the throw away line that the US military already has a vaccine but has stopped testing because

"Priorities have since changed. The focus now is global terrorism."

Sometimes, the whole world looks like one big unintended consequence.