New Caledonia (France)

Cyclone raises dengue threat in New Caledonia

From Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai'i

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Mar. 24) - Health authorities in New Caledonia have renewed warnings of an increased risk of dengue fever and leptospirosis, just over a week after cyclone Erica caused extensive damaged to the French Pacific territory, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

On March 14, cyclone Erica caused millions of dollars in damages to infrastructure, killed two, and injured nearly a hundred.

But in the aftermath of the cyclone, health authorities are now worried of the increased risk of mosquito and rat proliferation in the debris, with a potential risk for mosquito-borne dengue fever and rat-transmitted leptospirosis, for which four cases have already been detected.

The dengue epidemic was already in existence before the cyclone, with some 437 cases diagnosed so far since the beginning of this year, especially in and around the capital Nouméa and numerous small towns and villages in the North of the main island.

Another area of concern is the poor quality of drinking water, which could cause gastro-enteritis and type A hepatitis.

Although some health officials say a cyclone like Erica could actually have destroyed a lot of mosquito larvae breeding sites, this was only a respite and accumulated debris could become yet another breeding ground for the virus-carrying insects.

Pasteur institute pharmacologist Dr Alain Berlioz-Arthaud said the best attitude now was for citizens to clean their compound of all remaining debris, fallen trees, branches and still waters.

"All these are potential breeding sites," he said.

"Moreover, dengue is not only present in New Caledonia, it's also in Wallis and Futuna and Fiji. If the epidemic in New Caledonia was to explode again, we might have about ten dead," New Caledonia's Health Director, Dr Jean-Paul Grangeon, predicts.

According to local health officials, some young French doctors currently working in New Caledonia were not familiar with the symptoms of these diseases and could sometimes mistake them for a simple flu.