The Pacific Community (SPC), in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, has this week sent an update on the Zika virus infection to public health ministries and health professionals in the Pacific Islands region.

SPC closely monitors the Zika situation regionally and internationally, along with other diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya.

“We provide an ongoing service to the region’s public health professionals whereby we maintain a map of epidemic and emerging disease alerts for regional health security purposes,” the acting Deputy Director of SPC’s Public Health Division, Dr Salanieta Saketa, said.

“According to the information available to us, no Pacific countries have reported confirmed cases of the Zika virus infection so far this year, but further investigation is under way to ascertain circulation of the virus in a number of Pacific Island countries and territories.”

Zika virus infection can only be confirmed by a laboratory diagnosis, and the Pacific Islands overall have very limited capacity for Zika testing.

“We’re working closely with our partners from the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network to overcome this challenge and facilitate access of all countries to the few laboratories who can perform the testing,” Dr Saketa said.

Part of SPC’s update concerned the latest findings on the possible association between Zika virus infection in pregnancy and congenital central nervous system malformations, including microcephaly.

While this is not proof that Zika virus has caused these malformations, a possible association cannot be ruled out given the evidence available.

“In view of the latest findings, we provided countries with a number of recommendations. For example, we recommend all travellers, particularly pregnant women, who are visiting known affected areas to take extra precautionary measures to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes,” Dr Saketa said.

The map of epidemic and emerging disease alerts in the Pacific is updated in real-time and is available at:  www.spc.int/phd/epidemics

Further information on Zika virus infection can be obtained from:

WHO website
http://www.wpro.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs_05182015_zika/en/
http://www.who.int/features/qa/zika/en/
http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_topics&view=article&id=427&Itemid=41484&lang=en

CDC website
http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html

ECDC website
http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/zika_virus_infection/Pages/index.aspx

Media contact: Christelle Lepers, Surveillance Information and Communication Officer, SPC’s Public Health Division, christellel@spc.int or +687 26 01 81