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PAPE‘ETE, French Polynesia (March 19, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---Health officials are on full alert and have sent special reinforcement personnel to the Tuamotu archipelago, where an as yet unidentified disease has killed two people and seriously affected up to 30 other people, the French Polynesian government said in a release during the weekend.

The epidemic has struck the small island group of Napuka, populated by only a few hundred people.

Two men, aged 19 and 30, died in less than a week, both suffering the same symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting and an inability to urinate.

Health officials currently are on full alert and suspect the disease could be caused by food or water poisoning.

During the weekend, all sick persons were medivaced on a government-chartered military aircraft to Pape‘ete’s territorial hospital.

Most of the patients later were discharged, the French Polynesian government said.

Analyses of food and water samples are currently being made.

Some of the clues currently being investigated relate to out of date canned meat.

Doctors and police are visiting all of the island's food stores, asking proprietors how old their current stock is and taking samples.

A special mobile medical team, comprised of doctors and nurses, has also been dispatched to Napuka.

The French Polynesian government reports that it has set up a crisis center to closely monitor the situation both in Pape‘ete and Napuka.

A special meeting was also held with Napuka's residents in order to keep them informed of the disease situation and brief them on essential precautions to take.

Precautions include adding chloride to all water tanks and banning consumption of all milk-derived products, eggs and meat.

Local Director of Nursing on Napuka, Jean-Pierre Dedieu, said he now believes that with the help of Pape‘ete's reinforcements, the situation will come under control.

"At the beginning, the symptoms were like gastroenteritis, but later we had two unexplained dead.

"In the six years that I have been posted here, I have never seen anything like this.

"People who could have been infected have been evacuated to Pape‘ete. Now we're waiting to see if there are new cases appearing, but I think it's over now," he said.

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