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By Staff Reporter : PNG Today

Analysis: Who Brought Zika Virus To Pacific Islands?

According to UN World Health Organization officials − Dr. David L. Heymann, chairman of the World Health Organization’s Zika emergency committee, and Dr. Margaret Chan, the W.H.O.’s director general − the Zika virus disease is not life-threatening.

But it’s a major threat to pregnant women and their unborn babies contracted by “microcephaly.”

“Microcephaly is a condition that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and, in the vast majority of cases, damaged brains,” the officials told a news conference in Geneva on February 01, 2016, and reported by the New York Times.

To be certain, the Zika virus is a foreign import to the Pacific. Stowaway parasites, which got a ride into the Pacific Islands somehow from foreign lands on foreign vessels, airplanes or humans, are difficult to detect. Like ancient time stowaways on voyaging canoes between islands, anthropologists have theorized that mice and insects, even mosquitoes were efficient carriers of diseases and pesticides.

But the islands were virgin territories to major diseases and undesirables until progress and foreign "progressive" influences were brought to save us, ironically.


The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 according to WHO representatives in Geneva, and confirmed by The Economist, a British magazine, and the recent New York Times article, New York, U.S.A. researched for this article.

Zika is the name of the area in Uganda, Africa, where the Zika virus was first discovered.

Scientists were using a certain monkey called “rhesus” to entice mosquitoes carrying the yellow fever virus for more studies. Instead, scientists discovered a different virus in the monkey population and they dubbed it “Zika”. But it did not make the jump to humans until 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The human infection was probably carried by the “Aedes” mosquitoes who are now the culprit carriers. These mosquitoes are common pests in warm climates especially in the tropics like Pacific Islands. The Zika causes mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache for two to seven days, say WHO officials.

But the deadliest threat of the Zika virus is to pregnant women and their unborn children. Microcephaly is now more evident in places like Brazil where the Zika disease has exploded exponentially to millions of people struck by the virus outbreak so far. Microcephaly-born babies born to Zika patients have risen in numbers leading scientists to suspect a strong correlation, or even cause-and-effect by the Zika virus.


In the Pacific, Yap Island in Micronesia was first to be struck in 2007, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Duffy who was quoted by The New York Times. “There were some thought it might be a dengue outbreak…or chikungunya, another virus spread by mosquitoes,” Duffy said.

For more than 50 years, only 14 human confirmed cases had been known worldwide. But in 2007, 50 people were infected in the Philippines, and then 800 miles away east to Yap the first world outbreak began. Then six years later in 2013 and 5,000 miles away, thousands of people came down with the Zika virus in French Polynesia - Tahiti.

And why all these years the WHO has not aggressively pursued treatment and vaccines for the Zika virus? Colonel Duffy posited in a 2009 paper in The New England Journal of Medicine that a medical volunteer on Yap returned to the U.S. in 2007 was tested positive for Zika antibodies, indicating a likely infection. But the WHO paid no attention.

Furthermore, Col. Duffy wrote that, “Air travel and abundance of mosquitoes in the Pacific region raise concern for the spread of Zika virus to other islands in Oceania and even to the Americas,” the paper said. Then it is now confirmed; Oceania is covered.

The Yap outbreak did provide some Johnny-come-lately help for Tahiti  in 2013 anyway. Dr. Van-Mao Cao-Lormeau, an infectious diseases researcher at Institut Louis Malardé on Tahiti confirmed. However, it did not prevent the outbreak in French Polynesia, which infected thousands of Tahitians.


28,000 Tahitians were, more than 10% of the population reported for treatment. Another scare called Guillain-Barré syndrome popped up in the French Polynesian outbreak. This new side-effect of the Zika virus “causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, sometimes causing paralysis, was 20 times higher than what would be normally expected,” Dr. Cao-Lormeau and colleagues wrote in a 2014 edition of the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

Yet, in the Brazilian outbreak the microcephaly side effects are more prevalent. In Tahiti, 17 cases of children with neurological conditions, including microcephaly were recorded. But in Brazil where 1.5 million people infected with Zika virus since 2015, “3,935 suspected cases of microcephaly are being investigated,” according to health ministry officers.

To date, the only sure preventive measure available is to avoid mosquito bites. Using mosquito repellents, wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, and sleep in mosquito-net beds are the surest “preventive” methods. Other than that, there are no vaccines.

Another method, although an expensive project, is obliterating mosquito breeding communities. The current cyclone season is not helping after the down pours of heavy rains that will create perfect mosquito egg-laying sanctuaries to multiply.

For women, WHO officials are advising to avoid traveling to infected territories, avoid having sex, and to avoid mosquito bites.

(Sione A. Mokofisi is a Tongan published writer, and he's director of English-Journalism & Business Management at Tonga International Academy. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of this website.E-mail address: s1mokofisi@yahoo.com).

Posted by Staff Reporter : PNG Today on 11:14 PM. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Share this Article


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