Expert warns zika likely to stay in Pacific for years
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community says the zika virus is likely to spread throughout the Pacific for a number of years.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community says the mosquito-borne zika virus is likely to spread throughout the Pacific for a number of years.
The Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Yvan Souares says the outbreak started in French Polynesia six months ago infecting over 40,000 people.
He told Jenny Meyer the virus, which causes fever, headache, and joint pain, has now reached New Caledonia, the Cook Islands and Rapa Nui.
DR YVAN SOUARES; Every single island in the Pacific is vulnerable. The whole population of every single island in the Pacific is vulnerable to zika infection and zika epidemic. And most probably every single island in the Pacific in the next three to five years will have got an epidemic of zika virus.
JENNY MEYER; Are there enough resources to cope with this epidemic given that like you say it hasn't been around for long, it's a new epidemic?
YS; No the answer is clearly no. We are in the process now of trying to mobilise appropriate resources to face this new situation with epidemic viral diseases in the Pacific. So no there are not currently enough resources that are appropriately allocated to immediate threats. There are things that you can plan for, there are things that you cannot plan for. Or the only way you could plan for these emergencies, are factoring in immediate needs or urgent needs into a planning process. This is what we are trying to clearly put across to the international community.
JM; Can you tell me in terms of the peak of the zika epidemics in various places, has it peaked already now in French Polynesia, is that waning and now we're seeing these new peaks New Caledonia and Cook Islands?
YS; Overall in French Polynesia the epidemic is now waning away. In New Caledonia the epidemic is now entered into a peaking mode. It is still far from reaching the peak, this will probably be the case in another ten to twelve weeks time. In Cook Islands it has already entered now in an exponential spreading mode but again in Cook Islands the epidemic started a couple of weeks ago and it's far too soon to see any peak yet. It's going to happen again in a number of weeks. That will continue spreading. Of course some vector control measures can slow down the process.
JM; In your opinion and given what you've seen over the past three or four months in the Pacific Region, do you think zika virus is here to stay in the Pacific long term?
YS; There is no doubt in my mind about that Madam. Zika has emerged in the Pacific among populations that are totally naive immunologically, they have no defence. The virus has a logical spread to reproduce itself. It has a perfect host in the Pacific Island population, they have no defence. So the virus will spread and it's here to stay for a while until it has exhausted the human reservoir.
Dr Souares says authorities in Wallis and Futuna and Fiji need to heighten their level of surveillance and hospitals in New Zealand should prepare to care for zika patients from the Cook Islands and other nations.
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