Web Extra: Your dengue questions, answered

Web Extra: Your dengue questions, answered

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Island is grappling with the largest dengue fever outbreak in Hawaii since statehood.

And since September, when the first cases of locally-acquired dengue fever were reported, state and county officials have been working to raise awareness, beat back mosquito populations, and clear out mosquito breeding areas.

Hawaii News Now asked Hawaii residents for their dengue fever questions, and then got answers from the state Health Department.

Here are your dengue questions, answered:

  • What is dengue fever, and why is Hawaii seeing an outbreak now?

Dengue fever is a viral illness spread by mosquitoes. There are four types of dengue fever, and none of them are endemic to Hawaii. The virus is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes.

It's unclear how this outbreak started. However, outbreaks of locally-acquired dengue fever in 2001 and 2011 started by people coming to Hawaii with dengue fever and infecting local mosquitoes.

Every year, Hawaii sees a number of dengue fever cases that aren't locally-acquired; that is, people caught dengue fever while traveling or before moving to Hawaii and then developed symptoms here.

  • Are the symptoms of dengue fever the same for everyone?

Some people who get dengue fever won't develop any symptoms. Others will experience very severe symptoms, including abnormal bleeding and low blood pressure.

Severe dengue could be deadly, which is why state health officials are urging anyone who suspects they might have dengue fever to see a doctor.

Health officials say they haven't seen any cases of severe dengue in this outbreak. All reported cases have been mild. But even a mild case can keep someone out of work or school for a week. Symptoms of dengue fever include fever, headache, eye and joint pain, and rash.

In other words, said Dr. Melissa Viray, state deputy epidemiologist, "It can run the gamut."

  • Can someone get dengue fever more than once?

Dengue fever is a virus, which means once you have it, you develop an immunity.

But there are four types of dengue fever, so that means when you get dengue fever, you only develop immunity to one type of of the virus.

Technically, you could get dengue fever four times – once for each type. But that's rare. And the good news is that the Hawaii cases have so far all been one type – called type 1 dengue.

  • Is there a dengue fever vaccine?

There is a vaccine, and it's just been made available in Mexico. It's not in the United States, though – and health officials aren't exactly clamoring for it. That's because while dengue fever is an occasional concern here in the islands, it's a huge public health threat across central and Latin America.

  • What can be done to reduce the risk of getting dengue fever?

Health officials say you can do two things to protect yourself: Guard against bites and reduce mosquito populations on your property. That means wearing mosquito repellent, and long pants and long sleeves outdoors. To reduce mosquito populations, get rid of standing water on your property and clean out your gutters.

  • What should I do if I think I have dengue fever?

State health officials say anyone who suspects they might have dengue fever should see a doctor. That's because while most people experience mild dengue fever symptoms, some people can develop severe dengue. Again, Hawaii hasn't seen any cases of severe dengue, yet. But officials say residents shouldn't take any chances.

"We want people to seek care," said Viray, of the Health Department.

  • Does dengue fever pose a higher risk to pregnant women, infants or the elderly?

Let's start with this: It is possible for a pregnant woman infected with dengue to pass the virus on to her unborn baby. That's why it's especially important that pregnant women seek care if they think they have dengue fever.

Generally, infants and the elderly, along with people who have compromised immune systems or chronic conditions, are at higher risk when it comes to all sorts of illnesses. That includes dengue fever.

Children appear to be affected by dengue about the same as adults: Some will develop symptoms, others won't. In infants, symptoms of dengue may include a high fever, cough and skin rash. Parents who think their child might have dengue fever should see a doctor.

  • Can a breastfeeding mother who has dengue pass the virus on to her baby?

?The risk of a mother transmitting the virus to her newborn through breastmilk is low, according to health officials, and the health benefits of breastfeeding greatly outweigh the likelihood of disease transmission. A Breastfeeding mother with dengue fever should consult a doctor about any concerns they have.

  • Are family pets at risk of developing dengue fever?

Family pets can get the dengue fever virus through mosquito bites, but they won't develop any symptoms and they can't pass the virus onto humans or other pets.

  • Can a mosquito pass dengue on to its eggs?

Infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus on to their eggs, but that's not common.

  • Is there anything you can do after getting bitten by a mosquito to reduce your chances of getting dengue?

If you've been bitten by an infected mosquito, you could get dengue -- and there's nothing you can do to reduce your risk. Health officials say your best bet is preventing bites in the first place. Use mosquito repellent, wear protective clothing, drain or dump standing water, and fix window screens.

  • If you get dengue, does the virus stay in your system and are there residual effects?

The dengue virus stays in a person's blood for about a week, and then the body produces antibodies that get rid of the virus. Those antibodies remain in a person's body forever.

There are no well-established long-term effects from dengue fever, according to health officials. However, some patients do report some effects, like hair loss, chronic fatigue and depression.

  • What's the health status of the people who have tested positive for dengue fever?

?All the residents and and visitors confirmed to have dengue fever are recovering or have recovered.

  • Which islands have been affected by this outbreak?

Locally-acquired cases of dengue fever are only being seen on Hawaii Island. Health officials say dengue fever could spread, though, if someone with dengue fever travels to another island, is bit by a mosquito, and then that mosquito bites someone else.

Got a question that you don't see here? Let us know. Click here to send us your question.

You can also check out the Health Department's dengue fever outbreak page here.

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