Thousands urged to ‘Fight the Bite’ during Ironman World Championship

Photo: Boca Hawaii
Photo: Boca Hawaii

It is perhaps the most grueling endurance race in the world.

This Saturday many of the world’s best athletes will be in Kona for the Ironman World Championship.

This year, 2,300-plus athletes, along with spectators and race officials, are all being asked to prepare for more than just Hawaii Island’s notorious heat and strong winds. They’re also being asked to help “Fight the Bite.”

A dengue fever outbreak that gripped the island for months has subsided, but fears of other mosquito-borne diseases have officials concerned.

“There is a lot of Zika disease out there and we know that there are a lot of travelers, international travelers, athletes as well as visitors that come either to participate or to spectate for the Ironman triathlon, as well as just to come to Hawaii in general,” said Sarah Park, epidemiologist for the Hawaii Department of Health.

The fear is people traveling from areas with outbreaks may be infected when they come here and they just don’t know it.

For that reason, vector control on Hawaii Island has been conducting mosquito assessments at popular gathering spots associated with the race.

“Our greatest concern would be having a high mosquito population in public areas where a lot of people be congregating and that’s why our crews have been targeting sites such as the resorts,” said Eric Honda with the DOH’s district environmental health program chief.

Honda says these pre-race assessments are critical to mitigate the threat diseases like Zika and dengue pose to our community, and says spectators and even racers need to take precautions.

Lectie Altman is Hawaii’s top female triathlete and racing on Saturday. On Tuesday, she and the other competitors received an email warning of potential health concerns.

“I didn’t think very much of it to be honest,” she told KHON2. “It is what it is and you are going to take the precautions that you want to take, but everything that we put into this, all the time and effort for training and everything and whatever happens with all that other stuff happens.”

So far vector control says it hasn’t found any areas of high mosquito density, nor have they sprayed for mosquitoes. But officials do say with a large influx of international travelers, educating locals and visitors alike is critical to ensuring the health and safety of our islands.

“It’s good to know that everybody is aware and they’re putting information out there for people to have, and hopefully everybody will pass it along to their loved ones and spectators who are going to be there,” said Altman.

The DOH is advising everyone on Hawaii Island to apply insect repellent containing 20-30 percent DEET, to wear lightweight, protective clothing, and if possible, to avoid damp locations that attract mosquitoes, especially during sunrise and sunset, when mosquitoes are most active.

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