Dengue fever outbreak brings CDC to Hawaii Island


Three representatives with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on Hawaii Island to assist with the county’s dengue fever outbreak.

Two of them will remain on island for at least the next two weeks, conducting advanced molecular tests, providing test kits and advice, and working with epidemiological teams.

They say they’re not in Hawaii to take over the investigation, but rather help local health officials.

Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, answered questions at a press conference Thursday in Hilo, alongside officials with Hawaii County Civil Defense and the Hawaii Department of Health.

He praised the state and county for their response to the dengue fever outbreak.

“I’m very impressed by the coordination between the state and county government, and this is among the best I’ve actually seen in many outbreak situations in many different settings,” Petersen said.

With 130 confirmed cases Thursday, CDC officials describe Hawaii Island’s outbreak as relatively small, but they can’t predict how long it will last.

“We must be prepared for the long run. We’re only a few months into this and it could stop next week, but it could go on for a number of months to come,” Petersen said.

The state and county are already working with hotels and rental companies to get the word out. They say they’re looking into working with airlines to notify people flying to Hawaii Island.

Peterson says the CDC’s primary job will be to make suggestions about controlling the mosquito population. “The goal really here, as part of the control effort here, is not to eliminate the mosquitoes, but to reduce the number of them around case houses at least temporarily enough to prevent some kind of secondary transmission,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of residents’ efforts, and asked the public to remain vigilant by eliminating standing water and breeding sites, using mosquito repellent, and seeing a doctor if they’re sick.

State Rep. Richard Creagan, who represents Hawaii Island, says he still thinks more can be done.

But one of his main concerns is that the state continues to contribute resources to combat the mosquito population. “I don’t think anything they’re doing right now is wrong, because the main thing that will stop it from becoming endemic is getting rid of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, and that’s going to be a medium- to long-term prospect,” Creagan said.

State Sen. Josh Green is also pressing the state to direct resources to fight the outbreak. “The Big Island people sense that we’re in a major fight and this is the beginning of a marathon, and we’re going to need people helping in a big way through the holiday season if we’re going to stop the spread of dengue,” he said.

The last community meeting with DOH and Hawaii Civil Defense takes place Thursday, Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Pahoa High School Cafeteria.

As far as Peterson’s opinion on the danger of dengue becoming endemic to the state, “I think the probability of it becoming endemic is low, but I cannot predict with 100-percent certainty.”

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