HONOLULU, Hawaii – State officials said that the dengue fever outbreak is not over during a press conference held on Oahu Wednesday, even though the Big Island reached a “significant milestone” with no reports of locally acquired dengue fever in 30 days.
Governor David Ige, along with top state health and tourism officials, are instead saying the outbreak has come to a “halt.”
The state and County of Hawaii are standing down certain emergency response activities related to the dengue fever outbreak, the governor’s office reports.
“This decision rests on the fact that three periods of the maximum human incubation period of ten days have passed,” reads a state media release issued following the press conference. “The final day of the infectious period for the last reported case was March 27. However, as per routine operations, the Hawai‘i State Department of Health (DOH) continues to immediately investigate all travel related cases and conduct mosquito assessments and/or treatment of potential areas of mosquito exposure.”
During the press conference, a reporter asked when the state would declare the outbreak over. Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler answered, “I don’t think we are looking at any time … when we are going to declare this outbreak over. As we said this is a major milestone. We need to continue to be vigilant to new cases that come in from out of state.”
“There’s no standard weeks without?” the reporter continued, in an attempt to pin down when Hawaii Island would be declared dengue-free.
“That is correct,” Pressler answered.
“The fight against mosquitoes is far from over and we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves and our communities from the risk of mosquito borne diseases,” Pressler was quoted as saying in a later media release. “We continue to receive and investigate reports of travel-related suspect cases of dengue fever, Zika virus and chikungunya on all islands. As Zika continues to spread rapidly overseas, we must take precautionary measures to prevent any locally acquired cases from taking hold in our state.”
“This milestone could not have been reached without the diligent efforts and teamwork by the Department of Health and the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency,” said Gov. Ige. “While this outbreak seems to be ending, our statewide response to mosquito-borne diseases must continue. We must remain vigilant in our mosquito prevention and abatement practices, be ready to respond to the Zika virus, and continue working together as a state to ‘Fight the Bite.’”
During the press conference, Governor Ige said the declared state of emergency for mosquito borne illnesses would remain in effect.
On April 11, Gov. Ige signed a supplemental proclamation, extending the February 2016 emergency proclamation, in order to continue efforts to “develop a comprehensive response plan detailing appropriate actions and measures dependent on the state’s current risk associated with mosquito borne diseases.”
A statewide public awareness and education campaign is still planned for this year “to ensure people understand the risks of mosquito-borne diseases and how to best prevent these illnesses in Hawai‘i.”
“By no means are we out of the clear,” said Darryl Oliveira, administrator of the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, who was in attendance for the Oahu press conference. “Cooperation and collaboration between the state and county have been exemplary but we continue to identify actions and efforts that we can improve on in the future. We appreciate the tremendous initiative shown by the community in assisting with mosquito abatement and encourage everyone to continue taking proactive measures around their homes and neighborhoods to keep our state safe.”
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi was not present for the press conference.
Tourism officials quickly issued their own media release declaring the outbreak “halted” on Hawaii Island.
“Today’s report that the dengue fever outbreak on Hawaii Island has been halted is a huge relief for residents and tourism industry partners statewide, as well as travelers planning a Hawaii vacation,” said George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. “Travelers can book and experience all of the Hawaiian Islands with confidence and without hesitation. Hawaii is fortunate that locally acquired cases of dengue never got beyond Hawaii Island, and that the vast majority of cases occurred before February. Despite negative publicity associated with the dengue outbreak, visitor arrivals statewide, including those for Hawaii Island, are ahead of last year’s record-setting pace through the first quarter. That speaks well of Hawaii’s enduring brand as a quality global destination and to the response of both the State and County of Hawaii in halting dengue.”