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Dengue fever outbreaks in Pacific prompt health warning

Dengue fever outbreaks in Pacific prompt health warning

With dengue fever outbreaks across the Pacific, Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) is advising anyone travelling to the region to take steps to avoid mosquito bites.

Since October 2013, Fiji has recorded more than 10,000 cases of dengue fever, with 11 deaths. Dengue has also emerged in French Polynesia, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Zika virus, which is similar to dengue, is widespread in French Polynesia, with cases also in New Caledonia and the Cook Islands. Another similar virus, chikungunya, has recently caused an outbreak in Papua New Guinea.
As a result, Auckland is seeing more dengue fever than ever, with 35 cases so far in 2014. 24 of these cases have come from Fiji alone.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Simon Baker urges anyone travelling to these countries to exercise caution.

“Dengue fever can be a severe illness. Those who travel to the Pacific frequently are at risk of repeat infections with different strains of the dengue virus. This can lead to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal. This is heightened by the fact that, for the first time in 20 years, the dengue 3 strain is active in the region.”

Dengue fever symptoms begin with a high fever and severe headache. Nausea and vomiting are common, as are joint and muscle pain. The illness can last up to ten days, although people can feel tired and depressed for weeks. Zika and chikungunya cause similar, but often milder illnesses.

There is no vaccine for dengue fever, Zika or chikungunya. The only way to prevent infection, says Dr Baker, is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
“Although the commonest time for bites is early morning and late afternoon, dengue-carrying mosquitoes also bite all through the day.”

The best protection from mosquito bites include:

· Wearing lightly-coloured clothing that covers your arms and legs, along with a hat and shoes,

· Applying insect repellent, containing 40% diethyl tolumide (DEET), to skin and clothing, and

· Staying in accommodation that is air-conditioned, or has screens on doors and windows.

Dr Baker says anyone returning from overseas with dengue symptoms, or feeling generally unwell, should contact their GP or Healthline and let them know where they travelled. Paracetamol is recommended rather than aspirin, as aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding.

New Zealand mosquitoes do not carry dengue virus, and it is not spread person to person. Despite this, says Dr Baker, “dengue is not a disease you want to bring home. By taking precautions, you can reduce the risk of infection and have a more enjoyable trip.”

Number of dengue fever cases as at 14 March 2014:

· Fiji: Over 10,000 (11 deaths)

· French Polynesia: 1,741

· Vanuatu: 887

· New Caledonia: 101

· Queensland, Australia: 125

· Cook Islands: 47

Number of Zika virus cases as at 14 March 2014:
· French Polynesia: 29,000

· New Caledonia: 171

· Cook Islands: 19

(Sources: ProMED, Pacnet)

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