Health ministry steps up Zika fight

Thursday February 04, 2016 Written by Published in Health

Cook Islands Community Health Services are considering reactivating Operation Namu to ensure the country is safe from the fast spreading Zika virus.


The mosquito-borne virus has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which has categorised it as of same concern as the deadly Ebola.

Health Services director Doctor Neti Herman has been having meetings with the various stakeholders this week to discuss ways of keeping the virus out of reach.

She said their major plan was to destroy the breeding and resting places of mosquitoes which transmit the virus.

Cook Islands is yet to report any Zika case this year, although there was an outbreak of the virus in 2014.

Herman said while reactivating Operation Namu was in the pipeline, the onus was on people to ensure they do their bit to keep safe from Zika.

Operation Namu includes spraying of chemicals and a nationwide cleanup campaign, which were used during the dengue outbreak in 2002.

“We are talking about (reactivating) Operation Namu but that will require cabinet approval and a lot of work. We will need to get everyone behind it for this to be effective,” Herman said.

“In the meantime, we are talking about the most effective way and that is to ensure we destroy the breeding and the resting places of mosquitoes and tighten our borders to keep us safe from this virus.”

On Tuesday, Herman had a meeting with health workers including those from public health and the hospitals to put together a plan to combat the virus.

  She has also met with staff from the immigration department to ensure they are well versed with the situation.

Herman said immigration staff would ensure that visitors entering the country declare the places they have been to before arriving in the Cook Islands.

Herman and her team were scheduled to meet with the traditional, church and community leaders alongside other stakeholders yesterday to discuss their plan for fighting Zika.

“We will also be monitoring people who show symptoms of the virus and we request those who feel they are developing some symptoms to see a medical practitioner.

“People must remember that we can’t detect Zika virus here. We have to send blood specimen to Tahiti and this can take a few days to a week.”

The symptoms of Zika virus are similar to other diseases such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, general malaise, and headache.

These symptoms are usually mild and last for two to seven days.

Zika virus is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus, mainly Aedes aegypti in tropical regions but latest reports from the United States suggest it can also be spread through sex.

There is currently no vaccine available for Zika virus disease which has been linked to an increase in the number of babies born with smaller-than-usual brains and heads in Latin America.

As well as the Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, the Federated States of Micronesia and Easter Island have reported cases of Zika virus in the past.

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