WAILUKU – The state Department of Health is investigating two suspected East Maui cases of dengue fever, a potentially deadly tropical disease.
There is no cure for dengue fever, which is spread through mosquito bites and not human contact. However, most people survive outbreaks in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is investigating the two East Maui cases, and county officials said they are awaiting confirmation from the federal agency on the suspected cases.
The state did not reveal details about the individuals involved or give a specific area. But official sources report that most people survive the symptoms, including sudden onset of fever, severe headaches, eye, joint and muscle pain, minor bleeding and a rash that often appears in the first 24 to 48 hours. The fever usually begins in four or five days after infection. The symptoms can last for up to two weeks and can include vomiting and other stomach problems just before recovery.
The last dengue fever outbreak in Maui County occurred in East Maui from late 2001 to spring 2002, when at least 20 people had the painful fever and up to 100 more were suspected of contracting it. It was eradicated by a $1.5 million state project to, among other things, eliminate mosquito-breeding areas, said state Sen. J. Kalani English, who contracted the virus himself at the time.
“I’m hoping it’s a few days before they can call it anything, and I hope it’s not dengue,” said English, who represents East Maui, Upcountry, Molokai and Lanai residents. “You know, they call it the ‘bone-crushing disease’ because it literally feels like your bones are disintegrating within you.”
English said he didn’t even know he had the disease initially. In fact, he can’t remember two full days of his life. He said that in November 2001, he returned home to Hana after his grandmother died. English said it’s believed he contracted dengue fever in East Maui and that it turned out to be a weaker strain than normal.
His friends stayed away from his home because they believed he wanted time alone to mourn the loss of his grandmother, English said. But with his car in the driveway and no sign of movement inside, some friends came to his rescue. He said they put him in a tub of ice, revived him and possibly saved his life.
English said that when he recovered, he helped form the Emergency Environmental Workforce. It helped East Maui become one of the few areas affected by the disease to eradicate it, he said he was told by the CDC.
The eradication program remains in state law, English said, and if the suspected dengue cases are confirmed and there’s an outbreak, then the program would need to get funding to restart eradication.
Also, he said, if residents have the symptoms, they should report them to a health official immediately.
“This would also be a good time to go and check on friends and family,” English said.
The treatment is bed rest with plenty of fluids, along with acetaminophen or aspirin. A cool, water-soaked sponge can help lessen the fever.
What is not recommended are NSAIDS, which is a group of blood-thinning drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen that can lead to bleeding. Dengue fever can transform into an even nastier case of dengue hemorrhagic fever.
This is a very serious form of the illness with abnormal bleeding, blood clots, very low blood pressure and shock, according to the CDC. People who’ve had dengue fever before, such as English, are most susceptible to this form of the disease.
Perhaps adding to the potential problem is a flood watch on Maui set to last through today, experts said. Standing water left by a rain storm can become a breeding area for mosquitos.
Maui County Emergency Management Officer Anna Foust said the Health Department is taking the lead in the outbreak, which began March 24 with four Oahu residents in Pearl City.
All four have recovered, state officials reported. Since March 24, in total, the state has received reports of 42 possible cases. But 13 of those reports were found not to be dengue fever.
Foust agreed that mosquito control is key to mitigating a large outbreak.
She recommended that residents cover areas of exposed skin with light fabrics and mosquito repellent. People also should put screens over windows and beds and, perhaps most importantly, she said, dismantle breeding grounds for mosquitos that often grow from larva found in standing water, such as empty tires, puddles and ditches.
The state also has a vector control division that eradicates pests of all kinds, including mosquitos, Foust said. The county will decide soon what, if any, measures it may take, such as increasing garbage pickups in East Maui.
For more detailed information about the disease and mosquitoes that carry it, go online to hawaii.gov/health/about/dengue/DENGUE%20FAQ%203-26-11.pdf. Or go to CDC.gov and type in “dengue” in the search box.