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Regional News

Dengue continues to spread in Marshalls, but numbers slow on Ebeye

MAJURO — The first two suspected cases of dengue fever were reported Friday in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, following an ongoing outbreak on Ebeye Island.

Ebeye was the focus this past week of a major mosquito spraying and cleanup program to eradicate mosquito-breeding areas. Although the number of dengue cases went up on Ebeye over the past seven days, the numbers slowed compared to the first 10 days of August.

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With news that the dengue fever outbreak on Ebeye Island spread to the capital, Majuro, Ministry of Health staff led a grounds cleanup Saturday, Aug. 17, to rid the main hospital of mosquito breeding locations.  Photo by Jack Niedenthal

Health authorities reported Friday 25 additional cases over the past seven days, bringing the outbreak total to 150 on Ebeye Island. There were about 40 cases in July. The number spiked the first 10 days of August.

But the aggressive mosquito spraying action and cleanup work on Ebeye is playing a role in helping to slow the spread, said Secretary of Health Jack Niedenthal. “Our vector people went up early in the week and they sprayed the entire island,” he said.

School was canceled for all public and private schools on Ebeye this past week in the wake of the dengue outbreak. The Kwajalein Educators Association, an entity made up of Ebeye school principals, called to postpone school for the week to allow the spray team comprised of Ministry of Health, Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Authority, and law enforcement officials to conduct its work without risking harm to the general public. The public was advised to stay indoors in the duration of the operation, which wrapped up today on Ebeye.

On Friday, the Ministry of Health said it had identified the first two cases of dengue in Majuro, showing the virus is spreading out through the country. Although the cases have not yet been laboratory-confirmed as dengue, health authorities are treating them as dengue. Samples are sent off island and the ministry expects to receive results early this coming week.

Both the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control have been engaged for help by the ministry, and neighboring islands are assisting as well, said Niedenthal.

“Hospital beds on Ebeye are full (so) we are sending cots from here (Majuro),” he said. The health department in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia delivered 30 dengue test kits and the WHO has provided 500, split between Majuro and Ebeye, he added. WHO and the Red Cross have donated hundreds of mosquito nets.

With enough cases confirmed by off-island testing to prove it’s dengue, the ministry no longer needs to laboratory confirm every incoming case with dengue symptoms, said Niedenthal.

“The numbers have not plateaued yet,” said Niedenthal. “They are still going up.”

In 2011, during the last outbreak of dengue in country, over 1,600 cases were seen.

The Ministry of Health has restricted travel from Ebeye to the remote outer islands to slow the spread of the virus, and similar travel restrictions are expected to be put in place for travel from Majuro to remote islands following Friday’s identification of the first two cases in the capital.

Currently, the travel advisory issued by the Ministry of Health directs that “all sea and air vessels must not board or permit any person from Ebeye to travel to the outer islands.”