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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, April 24) - Health authorities in New Caledonia are closely monitoring an upsurge of dengue fever cases that have been detected in the outskirts of the capital Nouméa.

Since the beginning of April, four new cases have been confirmed, mainly in the suburb of Magenta (near Nouméa), where the municipality has now stepped up dusk spraying of insecticides, local media report.

The Nouméa town council has also reinforced its prevention campaign to incite residents to clean up any potential mosquito larvae breeding site, such as still water found in plant pots, old tyres or unattended bush in their compound.

One of the cases was identified on a person returning from an overseas trip in French Polynesia, where a type 1 dengue epidemic has been rife since last year.

Passengers arriving from French Polynesia will also be specifically monitored.

Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes and in the early stages, provokes joint and back pains, fever and general state of fatigue that can be easily mistaken for influenza.

When left untreated, in its haemorrhagic phase, dengue can be fatal.

An earlier dengue fever epidemic, in 2003, killed as many as 20 persons.

Territorial health services head Jean-Paul Grangeon said he feared those few identified and confirmed cases could be just the "tip of the iceberg" and signal a fully-fledged epidemic.

In New Caledonia and neighbouring Pacific islands, heavy rains have caused an upsurge in water-related diseases such as dengue and leptospirosis.

In neighbouring Fiji, health authorities are also struggling with a typhoid and leptospirosis outbreak that has caused several deaths this month.

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