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Dengue is not going away “it’s here to stay,” declares the LBJ medical director

Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga, medical director at LBJ Medical Center [photo: FS]

Dengue is not going away “it’s here to stay,” declared Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga, medical director at LBJ Medical Center during testimony before a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on Tuesday.

Health issues covered during the hearing included mosquito-borne diseases - Dengue and Zika - with concerns raised in the Senate last week over the deaths reported in Samoa due to dengue. Senators wanted to know what preventive measures are in place for American Samoa.

Saleapaga said that in the past, dengue would be around for 6-months to at least a year, but this time, it has lingered going on two years and this is the first time the outbreak has lasted this long.

And while there are no antibiotics for dengue, Saleapaga said there are treatments — based on recommendations and guidelines from World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — that both LBJ and the Health Department have in place to help those affected with dengue.

He added that the LBJ medical team is well prepared and ready to assist any member of the community who shows up for medical help.

DOH epidemiologist Magele Scott Anesi told Samoa News yesterday that between Nov. 1, 2016 and Jan. 8, 2018, there were 1,940 symptomatic cases for dengue, and the total confirmed cases are 489. He said the most affected districts are Sua, Maoputasi and Ituau. For Zika, there were 101 confirmed cases between Nov. 1, 2016 and Jan. 8, 2018.

(Samoa News notes that specimens from the territory are sent to a lab in Hawai’i for confirmation testing.)

Responding to a committee question, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua said there are local pregnant women infected with Zika and their babies — or children — are on the DoH and LBJ registry so they can be monitored. He said there are 200 children on the registry and there is federal funding assisting DoH with its work with the pregnant women and their infected children, as well as for prevention.

According to the CDC, Zika can cause birth defects when it is passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Microcephaly is a birth defect that causes babies to be born with small heads. It is a sign of incomplete brain development. Zika can also be transmitted through sex, so the use of condoms is encouraged.

Regarding the deaths in Samoa due to dengue, both Saleapaga and Motusa confirmed that there are “no deaths” due to dengue in American Samoa. The pair told senators that the community is well-aware, following several months of public awareness, of cleaning up of their surroundings and to protect themselves from mosquitos.

DoH’s longstanding 3D outreach campaign is the "Drain, DEET, Dress" discussion. Dengue fever is a disease caused by a family of viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. Symptoms include severe joint and muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, exhaustion, and rash.

Motusa informed senators that the presence of dengue locally is going on two years and American Samoa continues to work diligently to bring down the spread of dengue and Zika all at one time. He said DoH continues to collaborate with the Office of Samoan Affairs, LBJ, and the CDC on these efforts.

He added that public awareness regarding Dengue and Zika viruses, as far as cleaning up the environment, is progressing in getting the message out to the community and he believes a very high percentage of people in the community have a full understanding on ways to prevent them from becoming infected with Zika and Dengue.

Additionally, people affected by these viruses are more aware now about seeking medical help when they suspect they have Dengue or Zika.