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Staying vigilant: ‘Thankfully none of these diseases are in the Cook Islands’

Wednesday 9 November 2022 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Opinion, Pet Talk


Staying vigilant: ‘Thankfully none of these diseases are in the Cook Islands’

Parvovirus is a dreadful disease. The world over it costs pet owners a small fortune in routine vaccination costs. Closely related to panleukopaenia virus in cats, it destroys the cells that line the gut.

Puppies die in droves, from dehydration brought on by bloody diarrhoea.  Survival rates are low, even after expensive treatment.  Panleukopaenia causes a similar disease in kittens but gets its name because infected cats have no white blood cells left.

Foot and mouth disease is one of the most infectious viruses in the world.  It causes blisters in the mouths and on the teats and feet of cloven-hoofed animals, like pigs, goats and cattle.  Young animals may die, but adults usually recover.  It is present in most of Asia and Africa.  And some of South America.  And at the moment, Indonesia is combating an outbreak.

Thankfully none of these diseases are in the Cook Islands.

Biosecurity is the catchall name for the way we keep these diseases out and how we find them and get rid of them if they get in.    The methods used to keep us safe during the COVID pandemic are the same methods we should implement to   keep our animals safe.

Island nations have some advantages for biosecurity.  We have no neighbours.  For nations with a land border to another country, differing priorities often ruin the best efforts to control or eradicate diseases.  Distance and the time required to travel to islands acts as another defense, although less so in the age of air travel.  Six months on a boat used to stop a lot of problems reaching distant shores.

Cook Islands with its geographical location is so far protected from any disease incursions.  As we saw with Covid, managing and monitoring access at the border is key.  The Ministry of Agriculture’s  Biosecurity staff continues to check  imports at the ports and airport.  Any animals brought into the country require permission to enter, in the form of import permits. 

Extending control beyond the border is great.  By limiting the countries of origin for animals entering into the Cook Islands the risk is pushed further out, to the borders of those countries.  This is like tourists only being able to come in from New Zealand during May 2022.  If they wanted to visit from elsewhere, they had to spend 2 weeks in New Zealand first.  This is the same for dogs and cats that enter the Cook Islands, they must be quarantined in NZ first before coming to our country.

Maintaining vigilance inside the country is another safeguard.  Surveillance of animals and investigations of unusual events mean diseases can be picked up early, before they become established.  And that is where everyone can help!  Reporting unusual events, such as a group of chickens passing away, means the cause can be investigated.

Another component of biosecurity is limiting any exposure to as small an area within a country as possible.  Once again Covid provides an example, where travel to the Pa Enua was restricted after the first cases were reported in Rarotonga.  That way the risk was limited, and the efforts of the health staff could be concentrated where they were most needed.

Te Are Manu plays a minor role in the process of surveillance and monitoring, but it is a role we take very seriously.