Dengue cases rise to 107 as lawmakers fault state for 'slow' response

Dengue cases rise to 107 as lawmakers fault state for "slow" response
Dr. Virginia Pressler on left & Dr. Sarah Park on right
Dr. Virginia Pressler on left & Dr. Sarah Park on right

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Health Department said Friday the number of dengue fever cases on the Big Island rose to 107, six more than Thursday, as leaders of the Big Island's legislative delegation said they're unhappy with the state's response to the outbreak.

State health officials said they're doing all they can and bringing in outside experts to combat the disease.

Some of the most vocal criticism of the state's response to the dengue outbreak is from the state senator who represents Puna, a largely rural district with lots of mosquitoes and few health care facilities.

"It seems like the DOH is reacting slowly and inadequately to what here on the Big Island is a very urgent and major problem," said State Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna, Ka'u).

Ruderman said the state needs to do more to reach people with suspected dengue cases for testing.

"We should be having mobile vans going out into the community, doing testing at remote places, addressing the homeless and the disconnected populations," Ruderman said.

But state Health Department officials said they have worked aggressively under the leadership of Hawaii County civil defense officials to end the spread of dengue there.

"The efforts have been stepped up in that we've engaged every partner across the state that we can possibly engage as well as outside," said Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist.

A top Centers for Disease Control official will arrive on the Big Island next week to assess the response to the disease while CDC entomologists -- bug experts -- are also traveling there to help fight the spread of dengue.

The CDC experts will help identify the types of mosquitoes responsible for the outbreak and work with the state's entomologists to compare mosquito trapping equipment and assess habitats that might be producing mosquitoes around buildings where dengue cases have been reported.

"The department continues to provide strong support to the county including moving assets from other islands to assist in responding to this outbreak," the Department of Health said in a statement.

So far, the state said it has sprayed 155 properties for mosquitoes, including multiple schools on Hawaii Island and assessed 83 properties for dengue risk there.

But State Sen. Josh Green (D –Kona, Ka'u), who's also physician, said more needs to be done.

"We are short on doctors, and short on hospitals on the neighbor islands, especially Big Island and I think the DOH needs to understand that and act on it," Green said.

State officials said this is not an "explosive" outbreak, but rather a "trickle" of a few new cases every day they want to stop.

Dr. Virginia Pressler, the state health director, said, "We're not having an increase in the number of cases each day, it's the cumulative number since the original onset.  So it becomes a little bit alarming to the public."

Of the 107 confirmed cases of dengue fever so far, 93 have been Hawaii Island residents and 14 visitors.  The state reported 83 of those with dengue are adults and 24 of them children.

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