COOK ISLANDS PUBLIC HEALTH WAGES WAR ON DENGUE FEVER

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By Jonathan Harwood

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (December 20, 2001 – Cook Islands News)---Public Health teams have declared war on mosquitoes as they try to wipe out the insects infected with dengue fever.

The hard line approach comes after three cases of dengue were identified in Arorangi (Rarotonga).

That prompted the health department to spray the area from Black Rock right through to Arorangi, and if there are more cases then the department will consider an "onslaught" across the whole island.

Secretary of Health Tupu Araiti said yesterday his teams were taking "positive action" to prevent the disease from taking a hold on Rarotonga as it has done on other Pacific islands.

"Once an area is identified we do an initial [spray] attack within the household and then if there is a grouping, as we have now in one area of Arorangi, we increase the radius to 200 yards," he explained.

"But because we want to be careful, we have taken a block approach from Black Rock right across to Arorangi, both coastal and inland."

Araiti said if there were any more cases he would take even stronger measures.

"We are still monitoring the situation," he said.

"But if the number of cases increases and we get into double figures we will consider the next option, which is a full onslaught on the island.

"It would take a lot of resources and raise a lot of issues, but we have already spoken to the Ministry of Agriculture about using their staff and equipment.

"There are cost and environment issues, but what is the cost of a life compared to that of an insect?"

He said his teams worked on a cycle basis, hitting the area of the case immediately and returning three days later for a secondary attack.

The "block approach" could see areas sprayed weekly for up to a month, he said.

"People have seen us spraying and they know what we are doing; it is positive.

"We have to take a firm line, with our dependence on tourism."

Other countries in the Pacific have not dealt with the problem efficiently. Samoa and French Polynesia have suffered major outbreaks of dengue recently.

The number of cases there dwarf the nine confirmed on Rarotonga so far this year.

The disease was brought to Rarotonga by unsuspecting travelers who were bitten in affected countries and carried the illness to the Cook Islands.

Araiti said the problem had been made worse by the heavy rains and heat recently, which have led to a "rapid explosion" in insect numbers.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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