One of the symptoms of Chikungunya, Zika and Dengue is a rash which usually develops once the virus has run its course. Image: Luz Sosa (World Health Organisation).
With the first cases of Zika recorded in Vanuatu this week, the Ministry of Health say they are watching out for a return of the virus here in the Cook Islands.Currently, the only dengue-like virus affecting the islands is Chikungunya, as Dengue Fever and Zika were contained towards the end of last year with no cases reported since.
Health protection officer, Tangata Vaeau says they stopped testing for dengue viruses following the 18 confirmed cases of Chikungunya last year.
“We established that we did in fact have Chikungunya and so our doctors thought it pointless to do blood tests on every patient that presented with the same symptoms.” But, Vaeau says it is possible that they will resume testing patients to determine whether or not it is Chikungunya or if it is in fact Dengue and Zika making a comeback.
The Cook Islands has been hit with dengue epidemics in the past, severely taxing the resources of Rarotonga Hospital and the health system. However, the Zika outbreak which began in February, last year, was quickly contained by the ministry with the final cases reported towards the end of December. “We encourage everyone who presents symptoms of fever, joint pains, a rash, muscle pains, fatigue, nausea and vomiting to report into the hospital so doctors can confirm whether or not you are suffering from one of the mosquito-borne illness, and which one,” Vaeau says.
He is also urging everyone to be vigilant with travel plans to ensure the viruses are not spread more than necessary.“The Cook Islands is right in the middle of the pacific, so if these viruses begin spreading on other islands, we are more at risk,” he says.
President of the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, John Webb, says tourists are privy to monthly updates from the Ministry of Health on the status of any dengue virus or similar.
Webb says that the council members are under a duty of care to tourists visiting the country and that they take their health and welfare very seriously. He adds that any releases from the tourism corporation are passed to guests on the island and also updated online to inform tourists and locals planning to travel to the Cooks.
“It is always a good idea when planning a trip overseas to check for government travel warnings but, a government travel warning doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad idea to plan a trip to a particular part of the world,” Webb says. “It is up to the traveller to decide whether to heed or ignore the advice.”