Big Trouble on Big Island: State of Emergency Declared Over Dengue Fever in Hawaii

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Newman_hawaii_100216A state of emergency has been declared by the mayor of Hawaii County on Hawaii’s Big Island over the state’s current dengue-fever outbreak. There have been 250 confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne disease since September of 2015, making it the largest outbreak in the state since the 1940s.

Dengue fever is almost entirely spread by mosquitoes and causes symptoms such as high fever, intense headache, joint pain, rashes, and bleeding. Although it is not endemic to Hawaii, the tropical state can see cases brought in by visitors from abroad. Of the current 227 cases of dengue, 24 are visitors to the state and only two are considered to still be contagious, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.

The declaration was supported by Hawaii Governor David Ige, though he declined to expand the proclamation to the rest of the state. Ige said that such a move would only be called for if the dengue outbreak either spread to other islands or if ailments such as the Zika virus became involved.

The Zika virus is spread by the same breed of mosquito that transmits dengue and causes similar symptoms but in a much milder form. Zika has attracted international concern recently over its suspected link to a birth defect called microcephaly, which is when babies are born with underdeveloped heads and brains.

Since mosquitoes are the main way dengue is spread, outbreak responses involve measures to restrict the insect’s ability to breed and multiply. The variety of mosquito involved, the Aedes aegypti, breeds in standing water. The bug is not picky about where that water is, either. Aedes have been known to need as little as the amount that can collect in the top of a soda can. Since discarded tires are a known breeding spot for the mosquito, the state of emergency declaration has also lifted the ban on county landfills from accepting tires.

Although it can incapacitate a person for a time, dengue fever is not normally fatal. It can, however, cause more long-term liver, heart, or lung damage if left untreated. In rare cases it can develop into dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in more advanced bleeding and a significant risk of sending the patient into shock. Typical treatment involves maintaining fluid intake to help combat the fever and vomiting while also using pain relievers—but not ones that carry bleeding risks like aspirin.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Kennedy, Merrit. “State of Emergency on Hawaii’s Big Island over Dengue Fever Outbreak.” National Public Radio web site. February 9, 2016;, last accessed February 10, 2016.