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Similar epidemic struck region in 2001

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, March 12, 2009) - The 26 confirmed cases of type 4 dengue fever since Feb 23, the majority of them in the Leeward Islands of Taha'a and Bora Bora, represent the start of a type 4 dengue epidemic in French Polynesia, the Health Ministry announced Thursday.

There have been 29 confirmed type 4 dengue cases since the beginning of this year along with 47 confirmed cases of type 1 dengue, but none of the people infected with the mosquito-transmitted virus have required hospitalization, the ministry said in a media communiqué.

There are four strains of dengue fever—1, 2, 3 and 4. None is more serious than the other. Historically, the 1 and 3 strains are the most frequently documented dengue epidemics since 1971 in French Polynesia. The last time there was a type 1 dengue epidemic was in 2001, when eight children died.

Tahiti's first two type 4 dengue fever cases were detected on Jan. 16. They involved a mother and her son from Tahiti's north coast Commune of Mahina who returned from a trip to New Caledonia with a fever that health officials diagnosed the same night as type 4 dengue.

The French Polynesia Heath Department subsequently announced that there are "more than 150,000 people in French Polynesia" who are susceptible to catching this dengue strain. These are "all the people born for this period (since 1979) and then all the people who have arrived in the 'country' for this period".

They are susceptible because the never had this strain of the viral disease and, thus, have no immunity against catching the type 4 dengue.

The 150,000+ people represent nearly 58 percent of French Polynesia's overall 2007 census population of 259,596 people.

Tahiti's Health Department has previously announced a distribution of information about how to be on the alert to prevent the spreading of the dengue fever, which is transmitted only by a specific mosquito found in French Polynesia—the Aedes mosquito. The department has also alerted the tourism industry to step up insecticide treatments in hotels.

Spraying has also been conducted on Moorea, Tahiti and Ua Pou, the Health Department said.

During the week of March 2-8 there were six type 1 dengue cases confirmed and 18 type 4 cases. But the Health Ministry stipulated that was no epidemiological link between the 18 type 4 cases, adding that none of the people carrying the virus had previously traveled to a type 4 dengue epidemic area.

Eight of the latest 18 type 4 dengue cases in French Polynesia were detected on Taha'a, seven were detected on Bora Bora, two were detected on the island of Tahiti and one was detected on Tahiti's sister island of Moorea, the ministry said.

Some of the 26 dengue 4-carrying people have traveled within French Polynesia to such places as Faa'a on Tahiti, Moorea and the island of Ua Pou in the Marquesas Islands, the communiqué reported.

In Paris Monday, French Overseas State Secretary Yves Jégo reported that a dengue epidemic in another French Pacific community, New Caledonia, had produced 1,541 confirmed cases in February.

Tahiti's Health Ministry reported Thursday that the number of type 4 dengue cases had climbed to 3,189 since September in New Caledonia, causing two deaths. More than 1,500 dengue cases are reported monthly, the majority of them type 4 cases, with a few type 1 cases, the communiqué said.

Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) reported on March 10, "The dengue epidemic in New Caledonia is worsening with a reported 2,665 people now infected since the beginning of the year. Ten percent of the people affected have been hospitalized and local health officials say they're currently seeing around 100 new cases each day.

Tahiti's Health Ministry communiqué reported that while the type 4 dengue fever is increasing in New Caledonia, the number of cases is dropping in other parts of the Pacific, such as the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati.


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