As the rest of the world (and media attention) focuses on the zika virus, we in Hawaii are living day-to-day with Dengue fever (pronounced Den-gee). As a resident of Hawaii Island (Big Island), I’m sitting in the cross hairs of the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease in the world. I know some of its victims. It’s a debilitating disease, called the “Bonecrushing” disease in the past because of severe muscle pains.
What is dengue fever?
Let’s back up a moment and explain the threat. Dengue fever is a viral illness spread by the bite of the Aedes mosquito. Symptoms typically start 5-6 days after the initial bite, but the onset ranges from 2-15 days. Symptoms include fever, rash, severe headaches, joint and muscle pains and possible blood clotting issues. It usually goes away after 1-2 weeks. Four types of dengue make finding a cure or an effective vaccine difficult. Producing a vaccine to treat all four challenges scientists.
259 case are confirmed as of 2-19-2016.
State of emergency declared in dengue fever outbreak
Hawaii County (Big Island) mayor Billy Kanoi declared a state of emergency on February 7, 2016. This will add resources to the fight, including reduced mosquito populations, increased awareness and protection of the island’s population. Already, several beaches have been closed, and stores are having a hard time keeping mosquito repellent and mosquito coils in stock.
Is the tourist industry advising tourists of the dengue fever outbreak in Hawai’i?
Hawaii. Paradise, yes? A land of swaying palm trees, white sand beaches and friendly people. It’s winter on the mainland, which is prime tourist season here on the islands. A cruise ship visits Kona at least once a week, and hundreds deport to visit the quaint town, drive to Volcano or visit local beaches, the prime breeding ground of the Aedes mosquito, the favored carrier of dengue. Are they being told about the outbreak?
No one wants to discuss it. It’s a case of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Hotels and car rental companies are under no obligation to impart the information. Mainland media does not widely broadcast the news, and a search at the CDC website shows no alerts.
What can you do before traveling to Hawai’i?
- Bring mosquito repellent and mosquito coils with you and use them. You might not be able to find them in local stores.
- Wear long pants and sleeves in early morning and evening, when mosquito activity is at its greatest. Not ideal in a tropical climate, but a good defense if you’re worried about bites.
- Ask your hotel about current conditions and any closed beaches.
What to do if you’re a resident of Hawai’i
Join Fight the Bite by:
- Removing standing water, a favorite breeding ground for mosquitoes.
- Fix leaky faucets and outdoor hoses that drip water.
- Clear gutters
- Repair screens to keep mosquitoes out
- Dispose of old tires, which can collect rain water.
- Keep updated by checking health.hawaii.gov
The current outbreak is the third in fourteen years, but it is the most severe. The state is spraying suspected areas and is keeping the public informed.
Proactive mosquito control measures and public awareness will diminish this outbreak.
The question remains, is it over?
And if not, will the tourist industry continue to keep our visitors in the dark?