HONOLULU – After recent rains, the state Department of Health is urging people to clear standing water from areas where mosquitoes breed.
The precaution is aimed at preventing the appearance in Hawaii of mosquito-transmitted diseases, such as dengue fever, which has increased to epidemic levels this year in parts of the United States and the tropics and subtropics.
“Reducing the mosquito population can prevent the spread of serious illness from infected persons to others by way of biting mosquitoes,” said Keith Ridley, acting director of the Health Department. “Fortunately at this time, dengue fever, West Nile virus, malaria and other mosquito-transmitted illnesses are not endemic in Hawaii. We all must do all we can to protect our islands against these possible threats to public health.”
This year, five cases of dengue fever contracted outside of the state by travelers who became ill during their stay in Hawaii were investigated by the department. In 2009, six imported cases were reported, and in 2008 there were 14 imported cases.
Mosquitoes transmit the illness to people when they bite them. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, severe headaches, eye, joint and muscle pain, and rash. The rash typically appears on the hands, arms, legs and feet for three to four days after the fever begins. The symptoms usually go away within one to two weeks.
Sometimes people with dengue fever can develop blood-clotting problems, a condition called dengue hemorrhagic fever, a serious illness with abnormal bleeding and very low blood pressure.
The disease usually occurs in tropical Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. It is most common during rainy seasons in areas with infected mosquitoes.
In 2001, there was a dengue fever outbreak in Hawaii when travelers with the illness arrived in the islands and were bitten by mosquitoes here. The mosquitoes then passed on the illness to island residents.
Health care providers are advised to report to the Health Department all denguelike illness in patients, especially those who have recently traveled to or from Key West, Fla., Puerto Rico or international dengue-affected areas.
The need for mosquito control in and around residences and businesses is especially high after heavy rains, health officials said.
Because of budget cuts, the department’s Vector Control Branch has been unable to treat mosquito infestations, but it can provide information and recommendations by phone. It can be reached at (808) 483-2535.
The department encourages residents to take a few minutes every week to walk around yards and homes and eliminate mosquito-breeding areas, which can be anything that holds water. Those include old buckets, tires, flower pots, rain gutters and empty containers. Soapy water can be used in places where water can’t simply be dumped out.
“Dengue fever could flare up anywhere in the state where there are mosquitoes,” Ridley said. “All it takes is one infected traveler and active mosquitoes.”