In Tonga, Zika cases skyrocket


The number of people who may have contracted the Zika virus in Tonga has risen dramatically.

Seven people are now confirmed as having the virus, but health authorities say there are a further 542 suspected cases.

It was a classic Pacific welcome at Tonga's main airport today, as the newest arrivals touched down from Auckland. Most travellers on holiday were aware of the developing Zika outbreak.

The number of people arriving at the local hospital with fevers and rashes is increasing daily.

Last week there were 265 suspected Zika cases. Now the total of confirmed and suspected cases is 549.

That number includes three pregnant women who are believed to have contracted the virus.

"I think it is a concern for us because the magnitude is growing," says Rey O'Fanoa, Public Health Chief Medical Officer. "So we are doing all we can with the capacity and resources we have locally."

A Zika epidemic has been declared, which has led to the closure of some schools while control teams carry out insect eradication.

Authorities say, however, that they lack vehicles to get to affected areas and need more manpower.

"We identified as well that, we need an insecticide supply as well, sufficient to be able to do this work," Mr O'Fanoa says.

One of those impacted by the outbreak is local man Sifa Malolo. In his house, there are three young children and two adults who have contracted the disease.

He says he just hopes everyone arriving in Tonga and the local Tongan community itself take the situation seriously.

The Health Ministry in New Zealand is advising pregnant women, or those planning to get pregnant, to consider delaying trips to the Pacific where the virus is being actively transmitted.

The warning applies to Tonga, as well as Samoa and American Samoa.