NOTE: In the above video, the footage of vector control in South Kona was taken in 2015.
(BIVN) – Exactly two years ago this month, state health officials confirmed two cases of “locally-acquired” dengue fever on the Big Island.
Hawaii County closed the identified hotspot for the mosquito-borne illness, Ho’okena Beach Park, but not before it spread to other parts of South Kona and, eventually, the entire island.
County, state and federal officials came together to craft a response. Hawaii County Civil Defense took the lead. A state of emergency was proclaimed, although not as quickly as residents would have liked. A debate ensued over the way information was being shared with residents and visitors, as health officials tried to balance the public’s right-to-know with patient privacy.
Vector control stepped-up the spraying. Eventually, the island got a handle on the situation, thanks in part to its “Fight The Bite” campaign which urged residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites, stopping the spread of the disease. And as the threat of dengue fever diminished on the Big Island, global fears began to increase over the spread of the Zika virus, another disease spread by the same species of mosquito. Luckily, Zika had not found its way to Hawaii Island.
By the time the dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island ended, over 260 cases were reported.
Sherry Bracken recently interviewed Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator Talmadge Magno. She inquired about recent vector control operations in Kona that raised concerns of a repeat of the events that began in October 2015. Here is a transcript of the exchange:
SHERRY BRACKEN: One of the things that Hawaii County Civil Defense got involved with a couple of years ago was when we had a dengue outbreak which started in the South Kona area, and then there were dengue cases all around the island. Tell us what your current plan is relative to dengue and Zika and, as I asked you that, I have to tell you that I know there was a Zika case on the west side of the island within the past 60 days. The Department of Health actually sprayed for it. It was down at the bottom of (Kona) Palisades and I was able to confirm with Department of Health that there was such a case. But, there was no public notification and so that really made me curious about Civil Defense your role. What kind of cooperation you’re getting from Department of Health to be able to share information, so people know what’s going on relative to dengue and Zika and what your plan really is for that?
TALMADGE MAGNO: So, what’s evolved since the dengue outbreak is there’s basically a flowchart of what actions we take. They notify this office, whenever they have a case and it’s been – they’ve had importation cases pretty regularly. If people are traveling the globe into these areas that have … these mosquito-borne diseases, and so, every time they get a detection, Department of Health with their vector control folks, they’re going to those areas. So far they’ve been able to contain it to the point where there’s no island transmissions have occurred. But that’s the state we’re in right now. If we move into the next level where there’s a transmission on the island, then we move to the next level.
BRACKEN: And the next level is?
MAGNO: We just monitor the neighborhood’s a little bit more closer. You know, screen the people and then just just monitor if the outbreak spreading or before – you know – we’d have to interview those people to see where they’d be in and it just becomes a bigger case.
BRACKEN: Why is either the Department of Health or Hawaii County Civil Defense not doing some public notification when there are cases of Zika? Because I know it sort of freaks people out when they see the guys in the hazmat suits spraying for mosquitoes, and yet, there’s no public notification. I mean, it begins to feel like there’s an attempt to hide the fact that we do have imported Zika cases. So why is there not some public outreach about that?
MAGNO: Actually, I’m not sure about how that discussion came about, or how this evolution came about, but there is some public notification because the Department of Health goes to that neighborhood, questioning those people there, you know, so they’ll be the people that would be readily impacted by an infected person in the neighborhood. So there is public outreach.
BRACKEN: But not so much, if you look at the fact that – for example – I do not live in the Palisades area. But somebody called me and said the guys are spraying. They thought it was dengue, but I was able to confirm with Department of Health that it was actually Zika. But you know how the coconut wireless is. People will say – what they will say is, ‘hey, there’s a case of dengue, there’s a case of Zika.’ I wonder if Department of Health might not consider working with you a little more closely to just allow some kind of public release that our public information officer could put out just saying hey there was a case of Zika contained in an area – came from someplace else, not spread locally – to reassure people more than alarm people. It probably is a small number of people who actually see those folks in the hazmat suits but enough that people like myself in the media will get phone calls or queries like, what do you know about this? Because they don’t want to feel like something’s being hidden. So has there been discussion of being a little more open about these kind of things?
MAGNO: No discussion about it, but we can definitely consider it. If, you know, the public – but we’ve had, like I said, there’s been numerous, multiple cases of imported dengue, Zika, and very few calls about, you know, ‘what’s this guy, what’s these guys doing in our neighborhood?’ So, you know, based upon the public inquiries, it’s like, it didn’t seem like there is a concern.