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Cook Islands on dengue alert

Wednesday February 21, 2018 Written by Published in Health

With a new outbreak of dengue in surrounding Pacific islands, the Cook Islands Ministry of Health held a stakeholders meeting last Friday to examine the state of dengue surrounding the Cooks, and at prevention measures.


Although there have been no reported cases of dengue here since 2009, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa are all currently afflicted by the type two virus.

Although there is no relation between the four stages of dengue, type two is known for increased chances of haemorrhage or bleeding to death.

Hosting the meeting was acting director of Community Health Services Valentino Wichman, who was joined by members from tourism, immigration and health.

“The current dengue outbreak in Samoa has seen over 2500 reported cases and five deaths. In Tonga there have been 19 reported cases and one death, and in Fiji over 500 cases and no deaths yet,” Wichman said.

“Dengue is in American Samoa, too. Auckland regional public health services have reported 120 dengue victims, most are from Samoa, with over 90 cases being hospitalised.”

Wichman said that while the Cook Islands (alongside Niue) were dengue free, he believed that they had been very lucky, and it was not the time to get complacent.

“This should be a national concern given the frequency of people coming here.”

One diagnostic test for dengue costs $450 in New Zealand, and basing off historical data, if there was an outbreak that infects 2000 people, that would be $90,000 spent on just testing alone.

That would be a huge financial burden to the country, as well as to the tourism industry.

The most likely way that dengue would enter the country would be through the designated ports of entry: Rarotongan Airport, the Avatiu wharf, and the ports in Arutanga in Aitutaki and Omoka in Penrhyn.

But Wichman also pointed out that the meeting had highlighted that there perhaps was a need to identify other ports of entry.

It would not be a mosquito that would arrive through these entries but a person carrying the virus, which is all that is needed to create an outbreak.

In terms of preventative measures, MoH provide information to passengers, especially if they declare they’ve come from certain infected countries

“Outside of the ports of entry, we have our residual spray of houses, perifocal spray in the event of outbreaks, and we also have our biannual Tutaka in Rarotonga, and in the Pa Enua it takes place about three or four times a year,” Wichman explained.

“In addition, we also have the Vaka pride programme, (which began on Monday), and in the event that we go from a code green to a code orange, we will seriously think of initiating ‘Operation Namu’, which is a mass clean up campaign.”

Daily work is also carried out by the vector control team.

Wichman also advised that members of the public can do their part to ensure that no vector is lurking in their property.

“Larvicide, or the eggs of the mosquitos, usually inhabit stagnant or still water, so if you have plastics or tins or tyres lying around your house or anywhere that has still water, you should get rid of all of that.

“That’s a huge help in terms of preventative measures here.”

One arrival that the MoH have highlighted is the arrival in March of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s Pacific Mission party, who will be coming from Samoa and Tonga (as well as the unaffected Niue).

“There are expected to be around 80 passengers, and we will need to think about what control measures we will take and be vigilant.”

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