PORT LOUIS - The number of people in Mauritius infected with a mosquito-borne disease which is ravaging through the Indian Ocean region has risen to 962 from 341 the previous week, the government said.

"Chikungunya" fever, for which there is no known cure or vaccine, has been spreading through islands off the southeast coast of Africa since January, affecting more than 150,000 people in Reunion, Seychelles and Mauritius.

"Cabinet has taken note that 962 cases of Chikungunya have been reported as at 23 February 2006," the cabinet said in a statement after its weekly meeting late on Friday.

The disease, first recognised in Tanzania, is marked by high fever and severe rashes, and while most people recover, it is extremely painful.

The World Health Organization says it does not believe the tropical virus is fatal, but health experts say it can weaken the immune system, allowing other deadly diseases to set in.

The Mauritian government says the situation is under control and is telling the island's 1.2 million people not to panic.

Authorities blame the spread of the disease on heavy rains in recent months and have launched a country-wide public awareness campaign.

Police have also been mobilised to help spray insecticides in areas where cases of the viral infection have been found, and screening is being conducted at the airport.

The island, which is heavily reliant on tourism, has also launched an international campaign to provide information to prospective tourists who may be concerned about the epidemic.

Around 157,000 cases have been detected on the volcanic French island of Reunion, where health officials say there have been 77 deaths directly or indirectly linked to the virus.

French Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin is expected to arrive in Reunion on Sunday to assess the situation first-hand and assure people that it is still safe to go there.

Seychelles, which reported at least 1,000 cases at the beginning of February, says numbers have now started to decline with the end of heavy rains.

There have been no confirmed cases in Madagascar or Comoros.