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500 new cases reported this year

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Feb. 5, 2009) - The epidemic of the mosquito-borne dengue fever has now reached the threshold of some 500 new cases since the beginning of this year, local authorities said.

Health and social department authorities are particularly worried at the progression rate of the fever cases, which only counted less than 400 at the end of January and is now bordering 500 a little less than one week later.

The other concern is the combination of the quasi-endemic serotype 1 of the virus and the newly-arrived serotype 4, to which residents have not been exposed for the past thirty years, which makes them more vulnerable, especially if they have already been infected a first time by the type 1 virus.

Since last year, the trend in the prevalence, in terms of serotype, also seems to have inverted: from the type 1 (over 1,100 cases last year), it is now the type 4 which is responsible for most cases.

The epidemic hotspots seem to centre on the capital Nouméa and its greater area, as well as the Southern part of the main island.

Since last year, when the type 4 virus appeared, awareness campaigns and targeted spraying of insecticides do not seem to have had a significant impact on the progression rate of the disease.

However, authorities have once again stressed this week that in order for any campaign to be effective, it must have the full support of the population, especially for all still waters spots (which are potential breeding sites for the vector mosquito’s larvae) to be cleaned and any bushy area in compounds also eradicated.

Since last year, the type 4 dengue fever has also appeared on a larger scale in neighboring Fiji islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Kiribati and Palau.

Since last year also, New Caledonian authorities have stepped preventive measures to detect any imported case of dengue.

The measures include heat-sensitive cameras that are now screening inbound passengers at the Nouméa-La Tontouta International airport.

Any passenger with a detected unusually high body temperature is approached by health officials and asked to fill in a form and to get immediate medical attention.

In Wallis and Futuna, another French Pacific territory which has a lot of connections with New Caledonia (about 20,000 Wallisians and Futunians reside permanently in New Caledonia), the first three cases of dengue have been reported during the second half of January.

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