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Fiji under threat of Zika, dengue after Cyclone Winston, health expert warns

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |   Feb. 23, 2016 at 9:44 AM

SUVA, Fiji, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Plan International, a children's development organization, warns that Fiji is under the threat of Zika virus and dengue fever following the devastating Cyclone Winston.

"The threat of dengue and zika in the coming days in Fiji is real," Chris Hagarty, senior health program manager at Plan International Australia, said in a statement. "In locations where vector-borne viruses are on the rise, or endemic, the period immediately following a disaster of this scale can be a particularly dangerous one."

Zika was reported in Fiji as early as last year. The virus was first isolated from a monkey in Uganda's Zika forest in 1947. Before 2007, the Zika virus was concentrated to Nigeria, Uganda, Pakistan, Indonesia and Costa Rica. The recent epidemic is blamed on the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus -- along with dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

"Communities coping with the aftermath of Cyclone Winston need to know how to protect themselves from daytime biting Aedes mosquitoes," Hagarty added. "Outbreaks of chikungunya and dengue in many of the Cyclone Winston-affected areas of Fiji have the potential to mirror similar disease outbreaks witnessed after disasters such as Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu."

The Zika virus has also been linked to an epidemic of microcephaly, a developmental defect resulting in a smaller-than-normal head or brain in newborns. Category 5 Cyclone Winston killed at least 20 people in Fiji, destroyed hundreds of homes and left thousands without power. Winds reaching about 184 mph lashed the tiny Pacific island nation, uprooting trees and causing heavy flooding.

"Outbreaks of chikungunya and dengue in many of the Cyclone Winston-affected areas of Fiji have the potential to mirror similar disease outbreaks witnessed after disasters such as Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu," Hagarty said.

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