Chief Medical Officer, Dr Bernard Fouke, says the rise in pneumonia cases is directly related to the outbreak of flu, and the influx of visitors from all over the world.
“Throughout the last two weeks, we have had an influx in pneumonia cases, mostly adults and people who already have other health complications.”
Fouke says too many people in such close proximity when they might already be infected but didn’t yet feel symptoms, and the mixing of so many different populations was likely to be behind the surge.
“This type of event is inevitable, especially in winter, when communities who are normally remote from each other suddenly mix closely,” Fouke says.
As expected, and seen previously with Constitution Day celebrations, Fouke says this effect is increased by the sudden increased population density on Rarotonga, the stress of travel, the cold weather, and the stress of the performance schedule.
However, he says health staff were surprised at the very low number of hospital admissions during the celebrations.
While hundreds were struck by illness, only a few became seriously sick and needed to be hospitalised.
“Presentations of the illness peaked about a week into the celebrations, and after that point, there were very few who had to come in with serious complications.”
Asked if he was surprised at the rise in pneumonia cases, Fouke says it had been anticipated.
“It’s inevitable that when there’s an outbreak of respiratory illness, that pneumonia cases will also rise.”
He says there really isn’t much the health department could have done better to prevent the sickness from spreading so widely, and that it was inevitable that they simply had to manage as well as they could.
“The planning process starting quite early, which gave us the time to make sure we were prepared.”
Fouke urges people to look out for symptoms of pneumonia and if they have any concerns, to visit a doctor, and get checked out.
Symptoms include a cough and with some pneumonias sufferers may cough up greenish or yellow mucus, or even bloody mucus. Pneumonia is often accompanied by mild or high temperatures, shaking and chills, shortness of breath and chest pain.
The key message from the Ministry of Health is for people to practice every day infection prevention actions such as hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette. People should stay home if they are ill and monitor their own health.
“Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub, cover your nose and mouth with tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough in your elbow or shirt sleeve.
“Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu and limit contact with others as possible as this reduces the chance of spreading the infection to them,” an MoH spokesman says.