MILOLI‘I, Hawaii – South Kona’s “Last Fishing Village in Hawaii Nei” has been named a hotspot for dengue fever, but its not the first time Miloli‘i has faced an outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease.
Earlier this month, Hawaii State Representative and physician Dr. Richard Creagan informed the Hawaii County Council of a previous, untold outbreak in the 1990’s. Rep. Creagan delivered his testimony on December 2 in Hilo (video above), during a special meeting on the Big Island’s dengue fever outbreak. At the time Creagan spoke, only Ho‘okena and Honaunau in South Kona were identified as dengue hotspots, and Miloli‘i was not considered a high risk location for the disease.
Creagan told the council that people were getting sick in 1993 and 1994, but at the time they didn’t know what the outbreak was. “But in retrospect it was dengue,” he said, “because the health department did test 10 people who came forward in 2005 and they were all positive for dengue. It was called the Miloli‘i Flu. I saw people in the ER. All the symptoms were dengue… but we didn’t know about dengue. We thought leptospirosis. We thought tick-borne diseases. So, we never knew what happened. After a few months, the cases stopped coming.”
Creagan also said another island resident told him there was a dengue outbreak in Puna around the same time as the Miloli‘i Flu, but he has not seen documentation.
On December 23 of this year, county officials closed Miloli‘i Beach Park as a proactive and preventative measure. A larger shutdown followed on Christmas Day: The Department of Land and Natural Resources closed all State unencumbered lands in the immediate vicinity of Miloli‘i village and Honomalino Bay. These include the parcels designated by Tax Map Key numbers: (3) 8-9-003:001 and (3) 8-9-004:007.
“We’re recommending the closure of this area to all but essential personnel and residents of the areas,” DLNR stated in a media release. “This closure follows Hawaii County’s closure of Milolii Beach Park until further notice so crews led by Hawaii County Civil Defense can conduct mosquito control and pesticide treatments. State and county experts are now calling Milolii a hot spot in the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island.”
The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported that a state Department of Health entomologist spotted a swarm of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Miloli‘i. Aedes aegypti are rare in Hawaii, and a particularly effective transmitter of dengue. “This is the first time the department has identified more than a few aegypti mosquitoes in one area,” the DOH said in a written response to the newspaper’s questions.
Rep. Creagan said the ’93-’94 South Kona outbreak wasn’t followed up on by any attempt to eradicate Aedes aegypti on Hawaii Island, which he asserts should have happened.
Creagan says Kona got lucky, however. “That outbreak went away,” Creagan testified, “because there was a two-year severe drought on this island. And with that drought, apparently, this mosquito population diminished enough… People’s pails in their yard and everything else didn’t have any water in them. So the outbreak died away.”
“We may be facing a drought with a El Nino right now, and prediction is we will have it. Frankly, we better hope we have it because that may be the only thing that stops this epidemic.”
“Its still considered an outbreak but it could become an epidemic,” Creagan clarified.
The Miloliʻi community has started a “FIGHT DA BITE” campaign on the Go Fund Me website in order to raise money for nets, spray and mosquito coils. The campaign has already reached 53% of it’s $3,000 goal. The non-profit Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi hopes to deliver the supplies to villagers on New Years Eve.
The total number of confirmed cases of dengue fever on the Big Island is now 181. As of Friday, only 7 of those cases were potentially infectious.