8 Jan 2014

French Polynesia health officials battle two epidemics

10:53 am on 8 January 2014

Health officials in French Polynesia are battling an epidemic of the zika virus and also dengue fever.

Officials say 20,000 people have sought medical help from the zika virus but officials fear many more thousands could be infected.

Zika fever is a viral illness - similar to dengue fever, chickungunya, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis.

The French territory is also coping with a large number of dengue fever cases with 1, 484 confirmed, and the total estimated suspected cases is about 15,000.

The head of the surveillance office in French Polynesia, Dr Henri-Pierre Mallet, says among some people affected by zika, 30 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome have also developed.

"This means they are very likely linked with the epidemic of zika and maybe associated with the epidemic of dengue that we face also and in this condition of viral infections circulating in the country we have these cases of Guillain-barre which can be a serious disease."

Dr Mallet says Guillain-Barre can cause life-threatening complications, in particular if the respiratory muscles are affected or if the autonomic nervous system is involved.