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  • By Pacific Island Times News Staff

Leptospirosis likely present in Pacific region

Noumea, New Caledonia - Leptospirosis is possibly present in Pacific Island countries and territories, but the spread of the deadly disease is left undetected due to limited data and misdiagnosis, health experts said.

Palau epidemiologist Cheryl-Ann R. Udui said a few cases of leptospirosis were detected in Palau following an increased testing of samples from sick people during the dengue outbreak.

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira. More than 1 million cases of leptospirosis are reported every year resulting in the loss of 60,000 lives worldwide. The impact of leptospirosis is not only limited to humans. The disease also causes economic impacts related to a reduction in productivity among infected livestock resulting to loss of the household’ earning capacity. Recent global studies point to Oceania as the region of highest incidence, and the impact of climate change is likely to increase its prevalence throughout the region.

A training course for health professionals aiming at increasing knowledge and skills in surveillance and control of leptospirosis in the region took place in Noumea from Nov. 13 to 17 at the Pacific Community (SPC) and the IPNC.

“After hearing all the presentations at the training, I realized that the burden of leptospirosis is really underestimated in our region, especially in Palau,” Udui said. “The training is very timely and will help me back home in raising awareness on the disease and do proper investigations to better estimate the magnitude of leptospirosis burden in animals and humans.”

Vincent Richard, director of Pasteur Institute of New Caledonia, said cases are often under-recognized or misdiagnosed as dengue, malaria or influenza due to the non-specific manifestations of early-phase leptospirosis.

“Leptospirosis is likely to be present in many Pacific Island countries and territories, but limited data is available, partly due to a lack of understanding of the disease and the complexity of the diagnostic, said Dr Salanieta Saketa, SPC deputy director of the Public Health Division.

Twenty-one health professionals from 12 other Pacific Island countries and territories (American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Northern Mariana Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna) and 3 Asian countries (Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam) participated in the course.

They will bring back to their home countries enhanced knowledge and skills in clinical and epidemiologic aspects of leptospirosis in humans and animals, diagnostic techniques, treatment, vaccinations, surveillance, outbreak response, prevention and control. Seven of them also received practical training in biological diagnosis at IPNC.

The five-day course was jointly organized by IPNC and SPC with financial support from the Pasteur Institute, the “Fonds de coopération économique, sociale et culturelle pour le Pacifique « Fonds Pacifique,” the government of New Caledonia and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Technical sessions were sponsored by Intermed and Roche.

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