CDC: Don't let dengue outbreak change Hawaii travel plans

AP News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2015 8:55 PM

HONOLULU (AP) — The growing dengue fever outbreak on Hawaii's Big Island isn't a reason to cancel vacation plans to the Aloha State, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

As of Friday, the number of confirmed cases has grown to 88 since September 11, the state Department of Health said. Seventy-five cases are Big Island residents and 13 are visitors.

As many as 400 million people worldwide are infected yearly with the viral illness spread by mosquitoes. "This isn't a huge outbreak compared to elsewhere," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.

In Puerto Rico, where the disease is endemic, 95 percent of the population has been infected already, he said.

While the Big Island outbreak isn't huge, it's unique for Hawaii, where the last major outbreak was in 2001. Dengue fever is not endemic to Hawaii, but can be spread by infected travelers from endemic areas. It's spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes, not directly from person to person.

"Many, many more people are traveling internationally, thus the possibility of importing a disease like dengue to a place like Hawaii .... is obviously going up," Petersen said.

Depending on the quality of medical treatment, dengue fever isn't a common cause of death. Symptoms include high fever, headache, nausea, muscle aches, bone and joint pain and rash. There's no specific treatment — bed rest and acetaminophen for fever and pain are recommended. There's no vaccine. Symptoms usually go away completely within 1 to 2 weeks.

There have been no deaths during recent Hawaii outbreaks, said state Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

There's a Hawaii travel alert on the CDC dengue website, but Petersen said no one should alter vacation plans. "If you consider how many tens of thousands of people come to the islands every day the risk is extremely small," he said. "Simple measures like mosquito repellent ... can greatly reduce your risk."

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is monitoring the situation to keep visitors to the Big Island informed. "To date, we have not seen an increase in cancellations due to dengue fever," Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO George Szigeti said in a statement. "And at this point, it is too early to determine if there has been any economic impact on our industry."

Meanwhile on the Big Island, officials are trying to educate people living in rural areas about mosquito control. Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira told lawmakers at an informational briefing that officials are working on getting fliers out in languages spoken on the Big Island.

"I know our message isn't getting out to everyone out there," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park told the lawmakers. She asked that residents look out for their neighbors and help them with ways to reduce mosquito breeding grounds, such as clearing standing water.

The CDC is providing support to Hawaii health officials and the Hawaii National Guard flew some sprayer equipment to Hilo from Honolulu.

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .