Cook Islands Community Health Services held a meeting with the leading stakeholders including the traditional leaders and Members of the Parliament at Rakahanga Hostel in Maraerenga on Thursday to discuss some preventive measures.
The local health service has raised concern as the neighbouring Kingdom of Tonga became the latest country to declare a Zika epidemic after confirming five cases from testing nearly 260 people with symptoms of the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to birth defects.
Samoa was the first Pacific nation to have a local transmission of Zika virus infection in November last year.
Samoa has now three reported cases of dengue, same as its neighbours American Samoa which is awaiting confirmation on Zika.
Dengue cases are on the rise in Papua New Guinea while Solomon Islands is recording an increase in diarrhea and influenza like illness with three dengue cases so far.
In French Polynesia, dengue cases are reportedly increasing, however, in New Caledonia it has stabilised while Tuvalu has reported some chikungunya cases.
Community Health Services director Doctor Neti Herman maintains prevention is the best cure but remains cautious of the virus, should it enter the country.
Cook Islands had a Zika outbreak in 2014 but there have been no reported cases of the virus lately.
In 2014, 932 Zika cases were reported with Rarotonga topping the list on 865 followed by Aitutaki on 59.
“When we had Zika in 2014, it took us three months to control it so we did pretty well in 2014. Whether we had any babies born during that period with microcephaly (abnormal smallness of the head), we are not sure yet,” Herman said.
“While there is no strong evidence that Zika is causing microcephaly, we are suggesting that women in the reproductive age group should delay getting pregnant.”
Herman and her team were due to make a submission to Cabinet yesterday for activation of Operation Namu which includes a mass cleaning campaign throughout the country.
She said the ministry continues to preach mosquito control measures and is pleading with the public to take heed and act accordingly.
Herman said they would not re-run the Tutaka programme which was conducted late last year but would be available to inspect and spray mosquito breeding and resting sites.
“We also have awareness programmes going on in the media as well as a roll over TV presentation at the airport.”
She said travellers from affected countries were monitored and any reported symptoms of Zika are referred to the health officer at the airport for further action.
Zika can only be detected through blood testing which cannot be done in the Cook Islands as the equipment is not available here.
The ministry will be sending blood samples of people with Zika symptoms to Tahiti for inspection and Herman said this process could take days or weeks.
World Health Organisation (WHO) says the incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) of Zika virus disease is not clear, but is likely to be a few days.
The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, 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 although latest report suggests it can also spread through sex.
This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
An outbreak in Latin America of Zika has been linked to an increase in the number of babies being born smaller-than-usual brains and heads.
There is currently no vaccine available for Zika virus.