As a mystery virus continues to baffle public health officials, residents are expressing concern over Government’s response.
Community members are increasingly expressing alarm as health officials try to identify a mysterious virus that has been spreading amongst residents in the last several months.
The infections have been occurring at the same time that a type-2 dengue outbreak grows on Rarotonga and several outer islands. To date, government said there have been 343 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases and 38 hospitalisations recorded since early February.
A number of residents have experienced the tell-tale
symptoms of dengue fever, however blood tests carried out by Te Marae Ora
Ministry of Health (TMO) have returned negative results.
It is not known how many residents have been infected with
the unnamed virus.
Last month, Rarotonga resident Fiona Pearson said she became
ill with symptoms similar to dengue, however her blood test was returned
“negative” for the virus.
Pearson said she has heard of many similar cases where tests
have been returned negative, and is concerned with how TMO is responding to the
“So many people with textbook dengue symptoms are being told
they don’t have it, and so no action is being taken by TMO as a result of these
‘negative results’,” she said.
“If the results are wrong for whatever reason, then the
dengue outbreak is way worse than being officially reported. And if the tests
are correct, and it’s not dengue, then there is another unnamed but equally
debilitating virus going around that again, nothing is being done by TMO to
Pearson said failing to respond to the outbreak effectively
could result in a “PR disaster” for the Cook Islands, as the country prepares
to welcome New Zealand tourists this month as part of the travel bubble
announced earlier this week.
PHOTO: CI NEWS. 14030402
Dr Anura Jayasinghe, a public health specialist with TMO,
said blood samples must be sent to New Zealand to determine the exact strain of
dengue or the specific virus an individual may be infected with.
TMO did not respond when asked when was the last time
officials had sent blood samples to NZ for analysis, however Jayasinghe said
previous analysis on samples done in NZ did not reveal the presence of Zika or
Chikungunya in the Cook Islands.
Both are mosquito-borne viruses with symptoms similar to
dengue, however Zika can have serious health implications and has been known to
create pregnancy complications including malformations, preterm birth, and
Determining which type of virus may be in transmission
amongst the community at the same time as the type-2 dengue outbreak currently
affecting the country will require further investigation, said Jayasinghe.
“There are many types of viruses, so based on the clinical
presentation, it’s not easy to give an answer,” he said.
“I am working with my team to get more information on these
When blood tests are returned positive for dengue, TMO
typically sends out a team to spray the residence where the sick individual
resides, targeting mosquito breeding areas in an effort to contain the
But as admitted by Jayasinghe, the homes of sick residents
who have tested negative but exhibit ‘dengue-like symptoms’ are not being
sprayed, causing alarm amongst the public.
Matavera Puna team during a dengue clean-up campaign and dengue spraying late last year. Photo: MATAVERA PUNA/21020310
Last month, Rarotonga resident Mike Steele said he became
sick with what he believed was dengue, however two subsequent tests came back
negative for the virus.
“As a 32-year-old male, it’s the sickest I’ve ever been,” he
Steele said he was in bed for a week straight, with severe
pain behind the eyes, sensitivity to light, sweating, a rash, swelling and
itching in the hands and feet, loss of balance, extreme fatigue, and a headache
which felt like “a constant migraine”.
He described the symptoms as “seriously debilitating”.
“I have a pregnant wife and elderly neighbours and family,”
he said. “To have no diagnosis as to what illness I had made me really nervous
as I wasn’t sure if I was infectious to others hence I locked myself in my room
for a week straight.”
Steele said he was surprised he couldn’t get an answer from
health officials as to what had made him sick. He said his neighbours also came
down with a similar sickness and symptoms.
Repeated calls to TMO to have his property sprayed were
futile, he said.
“I understand Covid-19 is in the spotlight but that
shouldn’t take away from the fact that there are other serious health issues to
deal with,” he said.