East Hawaii News

State Gives Briefing on Dengue Fever Outbreak

November 19, 2015, 7:34 PM HST
* Updated November 19, 7:35 PM
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State officials, including Governor David Ige and Hawai’i Department of Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler, gave an update on the overall response to the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island Thursday.

In recent weeks, dengue fever has been one of the main focuses on health in the state, impacting a confirmed number of 79 Big Island residents and visitors since September.

With many concerned about resource usage and management, Governor Ige ensured that help was being provided and that the outbreak was under the watchful eye of not only county and state officials, but also those with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at the federal level, including the White House, which has been made aware of the outbreak and “is monitoring the situation.”

“We have transferred personnel from the neighbor islands, as required, and Oahu,” said Governor Ige. “We have been working to ensure that those activities that are required by Big Island personnel are being made available.”

State and County of Hawai’i crews are working hand-in-hand, led by Big Island incident commander Darryl Oliveira, Hawai’i County Civil Defense Administrator.

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As part of the partnership, mosquito assessments are being done in areas near affected or potential cases of dengue fever, including 10 Big Island schools that are set to undergo spraying operations over the weekend.

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Lynn Nakasone, chief of the state’s Environmental Health Services Division, said that neighbor island personnel have been rotating over to the Big Island to help in mosquito control efforts, which includes the spraying and abatement process. Non-Vector Control staffers from the Department of Health have also stepped up to aid in these efforts.

“Any cases that are suspected or confirmed, we go out to a 200-yard radius around the residence to make an assessment on mosquito activities,” Nakasone explained.

If a dengue fever case is confirmed, Nakasone said that “the staff will go out two more times”. The initial spraying usually covers a 25-yard radius around each property.

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The state has stressed the importance of taking preventative measures against being bitten by mosquitos, a specific emphasis of the DOH’s recently launched “Fight the Bite” campaign.

A major help to health officials in identifying individuals with dengue fever has been the ability to test specimens for potential illnesses in-state instead of sending them off to the mainland. The state assumed testing for these specimens on Nov. 2, according to Dr. Chris Whelen, chief of the State Laboratories Division.

“Since then, we tested over 200 specimens, and we have a capacity testing of 50 to 60 specimens a day. We’re testing every single day,” said Dr. Whelen, who noted that the capacity can be expanded when necessary.

The Centers for Disease Control has provided support to the state, giving auxiliary testing and materials. Manufacturers have also given the state “preferred pricing” on other test kit materials to ease the cost impact of these tests.

Thursday’s confirmed number of 79 dengue fever cases is a continued growth to the initial count in late October. State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park says the count is not the most important thing to emphasize, but rather patterns with the cases and areas in which individuals may have been infected with the virus.

To date, 59 cases of recent dengue outbreak on the Big Island have been in adults, while 20 have been in individuals under the age of 18.

Onset of illness has ranged from Sept. 11 through Nov. 12, however, Dr. Park says the state wasn’t notified about a potential case until late October.

The DOH released a new map on Wednesday, which provides a visual guide to areas of high, moderate, and some risk of dengue carrying mosquitos. Officials say the map is based on areas where individuals with confirmed cases of the disease may have contracted it, as well as other determining factors like the number of cases reported in the area or observed mosquito activity.

To learn more about the Hawai’i Department of Education Schools that will be treated over the weekend, further update of Thursday’s dengue number and the recently updated DOH map check out Big Island Now’s previous story.

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