Zika virus update

The Ministry of Health has extended its Pacific travel advice around the Zika virus to include Tonga as well as Samoa as an area of active transmission.

Media release

29 January 2016

The Ministry of Health has extended its Pacific travel advice around the Zika virus to include Tonga as well as Samoa as an area of active transmission.

Tonga has reported one recent case of Zika virus within Tonga.

Additionally, the Ministry has received the first Zika notifications for 2016, involving nine travellers who have recently arrived from the South Pacific.

Four of the travellers have been in Tonga,four in Samoa, one is still to be reported.

Four of the travellers are female. In two of those cases, the potential for pregnancy has been ruled out. Further tests are underway for the two remaining women.

Although Zika is generally regarded as a mild illness, it has previously been recognised as having additional complications in a small number of cases.

One of the travellers, a 47 year old Waikato man, has been admitted to Waikato Hospital with symptoms indicative of Guillain-Barre, a condition which can cause paralysis but from which most patients make a full recovery. The patient is in a stable condition.

All the other eight individuals have recovered.

Dr Don Mackie, the Ministry’s Chief Medical Officer, says the notifications should be seen in the context of a large number of travellers in the region.

In 2014 there were 57 Zika notifications;last year there were nine (provisionally).

“We will be providing advice to incoming travellers and the Ministry is updating its information for health professionals. There remains robust mosquito surveillance and monitoring at our borders.”

Health messaging advising travellers on what they should do if they get sick within a month of returning to New Zealand is displayed at all our international airports and available in a health advice card format, Dr Mackie says.

The health advice cards are also available on Ministry of Health website and are available in Tongan and Samoan.

We are working with border agencies and airlines to find ways to enhance and increase the visibility of the messaging.

Acknowledging heightened awareness of Zika’s possible link to foetal microcephaly, Dr Mackie welcomed the overnight statement from the World Health Organization.

The WHO has announced that it will convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Zika to assess whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

“The WHO’s international coordination of information and advice is useful to us and to our Pacific partners.

“Emerging diseases do arise from time to time, and their newness often means that their public prominence may be out of proportion to the actual risk they pose.”

“However, until more is known, the Ministry of Health continues to recommend that women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant in the near term consider delaying travel to areas with Zika virus present.

“If travelling in Zika infected areas, women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider. All travellers should take appropriate precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

Dr Mackie said as an additional precaution, the Ministry was also recommending that women returning from Zika infected areas who might wish to become pregnant should use an effective contraceptive for a period of three weeks after their return.

Updates on Zika notifications will be now be provided weekly – they are currently published each month on the ESR website. From now on they will be published on Thursday afternoon for the next month.

Updated information and traveller advice is available on:

Anyone wanting more information should call Healthline 0800 611 116.

Background

  • Zika is generally a mild illness which in some cases can have severe consequences.
  • The first recorded case in New Zealand was in 2002 and numbers have fluctuated since then.
    • 2002 – 1
    • 2003/2013 – none
    • 2014 – 57
    • 2015 – 9 (provisional)

 

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