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Yonatan Gazit, May Tay
Aaron Lai’18 had only recently returned from his freshman orientation trip when he began to feel feverish.
“At first I thought it was just a normal fever, but … by day three or four of this I went over to the UHC [University Health Centre] and they took blood tests and after a few days I found out I had Dengue,” he said. “I was the second or third registered Dengue statistic in UTown.”
Dengue fever, also known as the bone- crusher disease, is a mosquito-borne viral disease spread through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. There is no existing drug cure.
It was a difficult time for Lai, who said, “ I was in a position where I really couldn’t be upright that much, plus when I slept my bones and back muscles were in pretty bad pain.” Associate Dean of Students, Kim Cheah, also came down with Dengue around the same period. “It was really challenging to be hit with dengue, especially at a time when school had just started and so many events were happening. Physically, I was down with a high fever and chills, intense body aches and pain, swollen hands and feet and the need to be horizontal for most of the day,” she shared.
In all, there have been three cases of Dengue within Yale-NUS College, and a total of 50 in the College Avenue East/West cluster, according to the National Environment Agency. This is the first time Yale-NUS has dealt with an outbreak of Dengue fever on campus. The previous Dengue outbreak happened in 2007.
“Right now, Dengue is our top priority, and we are trying very hard with our concerted efforts to fight against Dengue and eliminate Dengue on campus,” said Ms. Radha Pebbisetty, Senior Manager of Safety & Health. Soon after UTown was classified as a high-risk dengue cluster, the college implemented combat measures. Information about Dengue fever and preventive measures was disseminated to the community through email blasts and even orientation slides. All students were given samples of mosquito repellent patches and residential common lounges were stocked with repellants for public use. The frequency of external misting increased from once to twice weekly, and biweekly internal misting was introduced. On Aug 26, two representatives from the National Environmental Agency (NEA) were seen setting up an interactive Dengue information booth in the dining hall.
According to Ms. Radha, Yale-NUS is working very closely with NUS and NEA. There are regular meetings with NUS Crisis and Emergency Management representatives to “strategically discuss the Dengue situation and the path forward in this fight against Dengue”.
Although it is unclear where all the Aedes mosquito breeding spots in the College Avenue East/West cluster are, the new Yale-NUS campus construction site was found to be one of them. As a result, access to the footpath adjacent to the construction site has been restricted. It is, however, not uncommon to find students breaching the safety barriers.
Amidst the undercurrent of anxiety surrounding the Dengue outbreak in UTown, Seung Hee Lee ‘18 is appreciative of the effort taken to control the situation. He said, “I think the school has actually been making a considerable effort to solve this issue. Coming from an international school in Jakarta, Dengue is really common. My high school really didn’t do any of these protective measures so I appreciate what they’re doing here.”
When asked what he would want to tell people about Dengue, Lai said emphatically, “Kill every mosquito that you find. I’ve been exterminating them day in and day out. Don’t become paranoid about it, but do make an effort to make sure there’s nothing buzzing around.” “Dengue was more debilitating that I ever imagined, so stay vigilant and safe where possible. If you show any symptoms, get tested immediately,” added Dean Kim.
At this point in time, the Dengue situation in Yale-NUS is stable and under control. No new cases have emerged since Aug. 20, 2014.