Four cases of dengue have been recently confirmed in Rarotonga. This follows the diagnosis of dengue three weeks ago in a visitor from French Polynesia.
These recent cases are the first of a cluster of locally acquired mosquito-borne illness in the Cook Islands since 2016.
Unlike some Pacific island countries, dengue is not endemic to the Cook Islands. The Ministry of Health successfully tackled both the zika and chikungunya virus in 2015 by adopting a cohesive community-based approach in spraying the perimeters of residential homes with insecticides and destroying mosquito breeding sites.
What is dengue?
Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection that causes a flu-like illness which can occasionally develop into severe cases. It develops in tropical and sub-tropical climates particularly in urban and semi-urban areas. The daytime bites of infected female mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans. Symptoms may include fever, headache, muscle and joint paints, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands and pain behind the eyes. Severe dengue may present with rash, mild bleeding in the nose or hums, easy bruising. While there is no specific treatment for dengue, early detection and seeking proper medical care lowers fatality rates to below 1%.
What the Government is doing
After a briefing by the Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Herman, the Prime Minister Hon. Henry Puna and Minister of Health Hon. Vainetutai Rose Toki Brown, have placed the utmost priority to immediately implement Operation Namu (Namu19). This programme coordinates government resources in a synchronised effort to work with the community to clean up mosquito breeding sites across the country. Financial support for additional resources has been approved.
The Public Service Commissioner Mr Russell Thomas is requesting Heads of Government Agencies to release some of their staff to assist with the clean-up-our-environment programme. Heads of Government Agencies have met and plans are in place to mobilise people and resources. Namu19 will take place on Friday 22 February 2019.
Operation Namu is an established initiative in the Cook Islands which aims to implement environmental measures to destroy mosquito breeding sites. In 2016, the programme was successfully implemented following a number of suspected dengue cases presenting to Rarotonga hospital.
“With the help of the community we successfully contained the spread of the virus in 2016 and we need to do the same again”, says Dr Tereapii Uka Director of Community Health Services. “Namu19 is a ‘tama i to tatou Ipukarea – clean-up-our-environment’ campaign in response to recent cases of dengue, and we need to mobilise our community to help destroy mosquito breeding sites so that we can avoid a dengue outbreak. We are seeking the support of our Cook Islands community to implement Namu19”.
Since Monday 18 February 2019, the health protection team has been conducting our usual Tutaka on Rarotonga. This will be completed on Thursday 21 February.
What the community can do
- Help clean up our environment – trim overgrown hedges, slash overgrown land sections, remove any containers that can hold water, drill holes in discarded tyres or cover tyres with tarpaulin
- Avoid mosquito bites during the day – wear long sleeved clothes, use mosquito repellents, screen windows and doors where possible
- If you develop fever, headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle or bone aches and pains, or you feel unwell, seek urgent medical advice. Dengue can make you very sick
- Dengue outbreaks are also occurring in other Pacific island countries. Take precautions and protect yourself from mosquito bites when travelling to these countries
What visitors can do
The CEO of Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, Halatoa Fua, says while the risk to visitors is low, people concerned about dengue are advised to use insect repellents, wear light coloured protective clothing, and stay in accommodation with mosquito screens on windows and doors. He says accommodation providers and other tourist operators are continuing to take precautionary action by spraying to eradicate mosquitoes.
Public Health will continue to undertake surveillance, awareness raising and closely monitor the situation. For more information, please visit the TMO website www.health.gov.ck or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CookIslandsHealth/ or contact the Public Health office on phone 29110 during normal office hours. For emergencies after hours, please call Dr Uka on mobile 55588 or for hospital cases, please call Dr May on mobile 55965.
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