Chikungunya rife in the Pacific
Two people have died from chikungunya in French Polynesia in an outbreak that began six weeks ago, has affected several thousand people and hospitalised over 200.
Two people have died from chikungunya in French Polynesia in an outbreak that began six weeks ago affecting several thousand people and hospitalising over 200 patients.
The mosquito born illness is also now well established in Samoa with more than 2,000 confirmed cases and incidence of chikungunya is growing in the region.
Jenny Meyer reports on the spread of the arbovirus in the Pacific.
Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes, and can cause fever, severe joint and muscle pain, headaches, nausea, fatigue and a rash. Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases are particularly vulnerable to the illness. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community's head of surveillance in Public Health says French Polynesia has been carrying a heavy burden of arboviruses with concurrent outbreaks of chikungunya, dengue and zika earlier this year. Adam Roth says dengue fever and zika circulation appear to be declining in the second half of the year but the main concern is chikungunya.
ADAM ROTH: What is currently very worrying is the chikungunya outbreak in French Polynesia. So far they have reported 541 confirmed cases. And also there have been two cases imported from Tahiti to New Caledonia. So that's the main outbreak that's currently building I think.
The head of surveillance at French Polynesia's Ministry of Health Dr Henri Pierre Mallet says medical resources are stretched with over 8000 people consulting doctors and the deaths of two elderly people linked to chikungunya.
The name 'chikungunya' derives from a word in the Kimakonde language from Tanzania where the first outbreak was seen in 1952 - meaning "to become contorted", it describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain. Dr Mallet says for most people the illness is mild and lasts for about five days but it can be painful.
HENRI PIERRE MALLET: The main islands Tahiti and Moorea are the most affected. But we have also several other small or medium islands now affected; like in Raiatea, Bora Bora also and other archipelagos. It's spreading quite quickly now, we have really an outbreak increasing in French Polynesia.
Meanwhile in Samoa, the Ministry of Health is trying to raise awareness of chikungunya prevention, especially as it's now the rainy season. Our correspondent Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia says chikungunya is now established throughout Samoa and the Ministry is asking the public to be more vigilant.
AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: The Ministry of Health has released the latest figures and also with more advisories for the public to continue on the safety measures from the chikungunya because the number of people affected from October to November has increased to 259, and the total so far as of July, according to Ministry of Health figures is over 2,500 people with chikungunya.
A Pacific wide meeting on implementing international health regulations being held in Fiji this week is a timely opportunity for countries to review preparations for managing emerging infectious diseases. The World Health Organisation's Dr Eric Nilles says along with the threat of Ebola, arboviruses are a top public health priority in the region.
ERIC NILLES: The wave of arboviruses that we've been seeing for the past two years, so dengue, chikungunya and zika virus, that continue to move through the Pacific and are causing real significant health issues and straining many Public Health Departments in the Pacific Island Countries. And we predict that we will probably continue to see this wave for the next one to two years.
Health authorities are warning people to protect themselves from mosquitoes with insect repellent, empty water from potential mosquito breeding sites and see a doctor if they have a fever and joint pain.
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