Hunting for dengue

The Department of Health (DOH) inspects hundreds of samples of mosquito larva.
The Department of Health (DOH) inspects hundreds of samples of mosquito larva.
Peter Oshiro
Peter Oshiro

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HALAWA (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a laboratory in Halawa Valley, state vector control entomologists wade through hundreds of samples of mosquito larva collected from Pearl City. The jars hold mosquitoes common to Hawaii - the aedes albopictus.

The scientists hope that's all they find.

"What we don't want to find is the aedes aegypti -- that mosquito is much more aggressive in spreading the dengue virus," said Peter Oshiro, the state Dept. of Health's environmental health program manager.

The presence of aedes aegypti mosquitoes would make it more difficult to control the spread of dengue.

Four cases have been confirmed in Pearl City where the lab's samples came from.

Entomologist Pingjun Yang said odds are against finding the more dangerous mosquito.

"The chances are very very low. In 2001-2002 we had a statewide survey. We only found some locations on the Big Island," he said.

Yang and fellow scientist Jeomhee Hasty have their hands full. They are the only two vector control entomologists on Oahu.  Budget cuts decimated their department.

Oshiro has had to use food inspectors to help with mosquito education and eradication in Pearl City.

City councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo said that's unacceptable.

"I think leadership, both in the state and in the city, need to take this seriously like the emergency that it is and dedicate resources now to make sure that we take care of this problem," she said.

Offers of help have come from the military.

"They're willing to do some trapping of adult mosquitoes in the affected area and to do their own background surveillance to just increase the sample size in looking for aegypti," Oshiro said.

Judging by the work load facing the state scientists in the Halawa lab, it's clear they need all the help they can get.

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