East Hawaii News

State Officials Call For Awareness, Funding in Fight Against Zika

May 3, 2016, 2:33 PM HST
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Senator Hirono and Governor Ige get a firsthand look at Hawaii Biotech’s work in developing a Zika virus vaccine. Photo courtesy the Office of Senator Mazie Hirono.

Senator Hirono and Governor Ige get a firsthand look at Hawaii Biotech’s work in developing a Zika virus vaccine. Photo courtesy the Office of Senator Mazie Hirono.

State officials spoke out on Monday about the need for an increase in public awareness and additional federal resources in the fight against the Zika virus.

Senator Mazie Hirono, Governor David Ige, Hawai’i Director of Health Dr. Virgina Pressler, State Administrator of Emergency Management Vern Miyagi, Healthcare Association of Hawai’i emergency responders, and Dr. Elliot Parks, Chief Executive Officer of Hawai’i Biotech unitedly called for increased resources and preparedness to fight the Zika virus in Hawai’i and across the country.

Both Senator Hirono and Governor Ige also got a firsthand look at Hawai’i Biotech’s work to develop a Zika vaccine.

In Hawai’i, there have been nine confirmed cases of Zika since 2015. The cases include an infant that was born with microcephaly.

Last Friday, the first United States death caused by Zika was reported in Puerto Rico.

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“As Hawai’i continues to recover from the recent dengue fever outbreak, we must act before the Zika virus poses a major threat to Hawai’i families,” said Senator Hirono said in a statement late Monday afternoon. “Bringing together Governor Ige and Zika experts today underscored that we must ensure first responders, state and county governments, and pioneering scientists like Dr. Parks have the necessary resources to face Zika head on. Stopping a widespread U.S. Zika outbreak requires a comprehensive approach, and that’s why I’ll continue to push for action on the President’s emergency funding request to fund vector control, education programs, and vaccine development in Hawai’i.”

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Governor Ige said that everyone need to have a stake in the prevention of the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses from taking a hold in Hawai’i.

“We must continue our collaboration and coordinated statewide fight against these illnesses, and with much needed support from the federal government, we will work to reduce the risks here in Hawai’i and across the country,” said Governor Ige.

“Although Zika is not currently circulating in Hawai’i and there has been no locally-acquired cases, the mosquitoes that can transmit Zika – the same species that transmit dengue fever and chikungunya – are found in Hawai’i, so the virus could be brought into our state by an infected traveler if precautions are not taken,” said Dr. Pressler. “All of the cases identified here have been travel-related and infected while outside of Hawai’i, and the risk of imported cases increases as we head into warmer summer months and peak travel season. It is crucial for infected individuals to avoid mosquito exposure for three weeks upon their return home. The Department of Health aggressively investigates all reported cases of Zika to reduce the possibility of the disease spreading in our state.”

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“We thank Senator Hirono for highlighting the dangerous potential for a Zika outbreak in Hawai’i. The recent fight against dengue has prepared us for Zika, however, we must continue our efforts to eliminate the mosquito vector.  County, state, and federal agencies can provide support and guidance, but success can only come as the result of a strong and sustained community effort to eliminate the mosquito vector and its breeding grounds,” said Miyagi.

“It’s important for Hawai’i to prepare now in order to prevent or minimize a Zika outbreak,” said Chris Crabtree, Interim Director of Emergency Services, Healthcare Association of Hawai’i Emergency Services. “HAH Emergency Services has been supporting the efforts of the state and community partners during the dengue outbreak, and is prepared to do the same for future outbreaks of any infectious disease including Zika. Active preparation can prevent or reduce the health impact of disease outbreaks and increase the safety of our residents and visitors. We support any increase in aid to fight Zika.”

“We strongly support Senator Hirono’s call for the federal government’s leadership in the battle against the Zika virus. Hawai’i Biotech is working diligently to rapidly develop a safe and effective vaccine to protect all of us from this dangerous virus,” said Dr. Parks.

For three months, the President’s emergency funding request has been put on hold.

Senator Hirono is an original co-sponsor of federal legislation that would fund the President’s emergency request to provide resources for education and outreach programs, shore up Hawai’i healthcare workers’ response to Zika, increase Hawai’i vector control programs, and support the work of companies like Hawai’i Biotech, which is racing to develop a Zika vaccine.

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