HONOLULU – The mayor of the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago declared a state of emergency on Monday as 251 cases of dengue fever have been confirmed.
The current outbreak on Big Island marks the state’s largest eruption since the 1940’s and the first locally acquired cluster in Hawaii since 2011, when four people contracted dengue on Oahu.
The Hawaiian government has been facing strong criticism that officials have been slow to act. More than three months ago the state Department of Health confirmed the first cases of locally acquired dengue in the region and on Monday, Feb. 8, it confirmed that 227 Hawaii Island residents and 24 visitors had been infected.
Dengue is a viral disease spread by mosquitos, which are settled in Hawaii and are capable of transmitting the illness. Much like Zika virus, it could cause fever, headache, joint or muscle pain, rash or pain behind the eyes.
The virus has the potential to develop into a severe form known as dengue hemorrhagic fever that can be deadly. However, if recognized and treated early, the debilitating symptoms can be effectively handled.
The state of emergency proclamation, which was signed by Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi, temporarily suspends a county law that prohibits the disposing of tires – thought to be breeding sites for mosquitoes – at county landfills.
The declaration will also clear the way so that Hawaii Gov. David Ige can make his own emergency proclamation, as reported by West Hawaii Today. His move would provide state funds to control the dengue outbreak.
Ige promised on Monday that, should the epidemic require extra resources, the state would declare an emergency. He added that he would make the proclamation also if the virus spreads to other islands or expands to include Zika or other mosquito-borne virus.
Lyle Petersen, head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, said “critical deficiencies” in the state Health Department should be “urgently addressed”. The state announced it would soon release $250,000 to the department to fund eight vector-control positions, as well as one entomologist and one communications position.
Ige has repeatedly defended state and county officials against criticism that the response to the dengue outbreak has been slow.
He said Mayor Kenoi and his team had been extensively working on the issue from the first report on the Big Island, according to Hawaii Tribune-Herald. “They’ve done a terrific job of engaging the communities and engaging us, and we’ve been cooperating with them from the beginning, providing the resources that they need to ensure that we can respond on behalf of the people”, claimed Ige.