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Asian mosquitoes a health threat in Tonga

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Chikungunya patient in Tonga. April 2014.

An outbreak of the viral mosquito-borne disease chikungunya in April that infected about 10,000 people throughout Tonga, started in Ha‘apai after foreign assistance arrived for victims of Cyclone Ian, Tonga's Director of Health said today.

The virus was previously established in other parts of the Pacific but not in Tonga. He said that the first person who was infected was in Ha'apai and he believed that the virus was brought there by foreign visitors and assistance sent to Ha'apai after it was struck by Cyclone Ian on 11 January 2014.

Dr 'Akau'ola  confirmed today that there is a concern in Tonga and in other Pacific Island countries over mosquitoes that spread dengue fever and chikungunya virus.

He said that the ministry has received a Breteau Index on the intensity of the problem in Tonga, and they have formulated a public awareness program, which they hoped to be launched soon in partnership with the World Health Organization WHO.

He admitted that trying to eradicate mosquitoes, and the Asian Tiger Mosquitoes was complicated by the water system and the sanitation system that we have in place, including water tanks and septic tanks, which are popular breeding places for mosquitoes.

Dr 'Akau'ola said he had not read the findings of Tom Swan that were widely reported this week, but he was thankful that Tom had brought the problem into the public arena.

Tom Swan, a researcher from the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand has stated that the domination by the Asian Tiger Mosquitoes of local Tongan mosquitoes is a threat to Tonga. The Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is a small black mosquito with white stripes.

He reportedly analyzed mosquito larva from 88 sites in Tongatapu and 'Eua and discovered that the Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, the carrier of dengue fever and chikungunya virus, was "outcompeting" the eight other species of mosquitoes on record in Tonga.