Pacific warned of ZIKA threat to foetal development
A medical expert from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community says countries in the region should be on the alert in regards to the possible links of the zika virus to foetal malformation in babies.
A medical expert says the region should be on the alert over possible links between the zika virus and foetal malformation in babies.
The warning from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community follows reports of an increased rate of microcephaly in newborn babies in Brazil.
Much of the Pacific has been hit by zika, most notably French Polynesia two years ago.
Indira Moala reports.
A senior epidemiologist from the SPC's Public Health Surveillance network says eight countries across the Pacific have reported outbreaks of the mosquito-borne virus since it first emerged in the region in the Federated States of Micronesia in 2007.
Dr Salanieta Saketa says the latest case, as recent as this week, was detected in Samoa.
SALANIETA SAKETA: We have actually been in communication with countries who have reported cases of zika. None of them at this stage have confirmed any increase in number of babies born with malformations that may be related to zika but of course they are [still] looking in to the information and finding out if there have been any cases.
French Polynesia's Ministry of Health has confirmed there has been a higher than usual number of foetal cerebral malformations since the 2013-2014 outbreak.
The Ministry's Head of Surveillance, Dr Henri Pierre Mallet, estimates that more than half of the country's population may have contracted the virus during this time.
An investigation is being done by the ministry to determine whether cases of foetal malformation can be linked to the zika virus which may have been contracted by some mothers during pregnancy.
HENRI PIERRE MALLET: We think around 18 pregnancies have been confirmed. We still are not sure that all women had been infected during their pregnancy but the main hypothesis is the zika virus. But we are dealing with the investigation and we are thinking about more epidemiological studies to confirm that.
A New Zealand Medical Officer from the Auckland Regional Health agrees that there is a concern that foetal malformations such as microcephaly may be connected.
Denise Barnfather says there have been 42 reported cases of the zika virus in New Zealand since 2014, all of them of patients who had caught the virus while travelling in the Pacific.
DENISE BARNFATHER: In 2014 we had 37 cases, no deaths, but all of these were imported from the Cook Islands. The other interesting thing about those cases is that they were in an older age group from ages 50-59 and mostly females. And then in 2015 we had only five cases. Four of those were from Samoa and one of those was from Vanuatu.
Ms Barnfather says although there have been no confirmed cases of microcephaly or other foetal malformations linked to zika yet, people should be concerned while investigations are continuing.
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