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Zika travel warnings queried

Wednesday 27 January 2016 | Published in Regional


APIA – The Ministry of Health in Samoa is questioning travel warnings issued to pregnant women in New Zealand and the United States over the mosquito-borne zika virus.

Only a few cases of the disease, which may cause birth defects, were reported in Samoa and other Pacific nations last year.

Director general of health in Samoa Take Naseri said just three cases of zika were detected in Samoa in 2015 and the travel warnings were issued without consultation.

He said if there was an epidemic, cases would have been much more frequent.

“Putting Samoa there as one of the most dangerous place for zika, in my own personal opinion, is not right, when we only have three cases and those three cases may be false positive.”

Dr Naseri said an ongoing programme to control the mosquito which carries both the zika and dengue viruses appeared to be working.

The zika virus, which causes mild flu like symptoms, was first detected in the Pacific in 2007.

More than 100,000 people are thought to have contracted the virus during an outbreak in French Polynesia in 2013, but the territory said just 18 instances of the birth defect, microcephaly, could be linked to the virus.

About 4000 cases of zika-linked microcephaly have been recorded in Brazil since October. Affected babies are born with unusually small heads.

The link between microcephaly and zika has not been confirmed but a small number of babies who died had the virus in their brain and no other explanation for the surge in microcephaly has been suggested.

The brain condition can be deadly or cause intellectual disability and developmental delays.

In Fiji, national advisor on communicable diseases Mike Kama said efforts to prevent zika had been increased despite only two cases in the country last year.

There have been no cases of zika in the Cook Islands since an outbreak in 2014.

Cook Islands director of public health Neti Herman said as well as checking every house for mosquito breeding sites, the government was monitoring visitors from Pacific countries where zika is reported.

Dr Herman said zika was not being taken lightly and information pamphlets were being given to visitors telling them to report any zika-like symptoms.

The World Health Organisation is not recommending any travel restrictions related to zika, but the Ministry of Health in New Zealand says pregnant women should avoid travelling to countries where the virus has been reported.