Health officials stretched thin with three outbreaks in the past year

Hawaii Department of Health
Hawaii Department of Health

KHON2 is awaiting results from the Department of Health after investigators tested an Oahu farm for possible salmonella.

Officials say 14 people got sick, and their cases are linked to tainted limu served with poke. It’s the second food borne illness outbreak to hit the state, with the hepatitis-a outbreak still weeks away from being done.

KHON2 checks on what the busy year has meant for the health department, and how the string of outbreaks is affecting upcoming programs.

With advancements in the way the state Department of Health detects and fights infectious diseases improving each year, the department’s workload continues to grow.

It’s been a busy year for the state Department of Health. Starting with the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island, which capped off at 264 cases and slowed to a halt in March of this year. That of course was closely followed by the threat of Zika, and although to this date there have been no locally acquired cases, the department still had to make sure the public was informed.

But Dr. Sarah Park speaks highly of her team’s handling of the recent threats, “It’s a testament frankly to my staff to the staff here in the department not just in my division but in other programs around the department. If anything if you’re looking for a silver lining out of all this, it’s made us work even more and more closely together.”

The hepatitis A outbreak that followed is also still under the department’s watch. Dec. 5 is the day the outbreak can finally be taken off the watch list.

With a current Salmonella outbreak, and with the peak of flu season on the horizon, the department still has its hands full. We’re going to be constantly busy there’s always going to be something new and it does speak to the fact that we do need more capacity we need increase capacity.”

Staffing is an issue the health department has struggled with, hoping for increased staffing in the future, to deal with the ever changing landscape of infectious diseases. “We’re hopeful we have put in requests but we’ll just have to see how things go.”

The department will ask the legislature for two more full-time workers to help with their outbreak investigations.

The popular Stop Flu at School program will be getting a late start. Some smaller schools will start to see the program in the coming weeks, but the majority of clinics will be held in January.

 

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