NEW CALEDONIA RECORDS FIRST DENGUE DEATH

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Total cases reported stands at 1,016

By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Oct. 23, 2008) – New Caledonia's health services have on Thursday announced the first death related to the current dengue fever epidemic.

The victim was a woman in her fifties, who resided in the country town of La Foa, on the West coast of the main island.

Health services have also pointed out that the latest toll on the number of cases reported stood this week at 1,016.

Most cases concerned the serotype 1 of the hemorrhagic fever, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

New Caledonia has been gripped by the epidemic for the past four months.

In other parts f the Pacific region, another, less common, serotype of dengue, the type 4, is currently prevailing, particularly in Fiji (close to two thousand cases reported so far, Kiribati, Samoa, American Samoa and Palau.

This has led New Caledonian health authorities, as well as those in French Polynesia, to raise awareness and alert levels with a particular focus on visitors or returning travellers, who could "import" the disease.

One particular worry is that even though local populations have been regularly exposed to the type 1 dengue virus, they are not used to the Type 4 and could therefore be more vulnerable and less resistant.

Another concern is that the return of the warm and humid season in this part of the Pacific could fuel a fresh vigour in the cases of dengue, because of the favourable conditions to the reproduction of vector-bearing Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes and their larvae.

As in other parts of the Pacific, New Caledonian authorities have stepped up awareness campaigns (with a focus on cleaning compounds and removing any object that could potentially contain still waters [a favourite breeding site for mosquitoes]).

The public is also advised to use personal mosquito repellents and mosquito nets to avoid being bitten by the insects.

Public spraying campaigns have also been carried out in past months, especially in the capital Nouméa and its suburbs.

In French Polynesia, health director Dr Henri-Pierre Mallet has also expressed alarm last month, saying that if the Type 4 dengue was to make its way into the French Pacific territory, about 60 percent of the population (about 250,000 I total) could be affected.

Dengue, if left untreated, can prove deadly because of the internal haemorrhage it provokes.

Its earlier symptoms are joint and muscular pains, headaches, nausea, fever, that can all be easily mistaken for a common influenza.

The overarching advice is that in case of symptoms and in doubt, medical advice should be sought.

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