CDC: State doing a good job tackling dengue outbreak, but some efforts could improve

CDC: State doing a good job tackling dengue outbreak, but some efforts could improve

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state's response to a dengue fever outbreak on Hawaii Island has been "timely, well-considered and appropriate," but the state needs to do a better job of tracking trends, identifying how to best control mosquito populations, and determining whether outreach efforts are working, according to a CDC report.

"All facets of a public health response to a dengue outbreak have been addressed adequately: community outreach, surveillance, diagnostic testing, medical care, and vector control," wrote Dr. Lyle Peterson, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.

"Nevertheless, the outbreak has revealed critical deficiencies in communications and medical entomologic capacities within the Department of Health that should be urgently addressed."

In particular, Peterson wrote in the 10-page "initial assessment," that the state lacks the technical staff who would be able to determine how to best tackle vector control efforts.

Peterson, who visited Hawaii last month, said that the state's current mosquito spraying efforts may be insufficient, ineffective or unsustainable.

Peterson also said he worries about staff fatigue in handling the outbreak -- which has sickened 153 Hawaii Island residents as of Tuesday – and he pointed out that the state's resources (particularly around communications) are already stretched.

The state recently brought on Bennet Group to assist the DOH's one-person communications office with outreach efforts. The emergency contract, which runs from Nov. 6 to May 6, is for $100,000. A CDC spokesman was also assisting the DOH in responding to media inquiries.

Meanwhile, the state is spending $150,000 on dengue antibody tests. The original contract price, estimated before the outbreak, was $20,000.

Dr. Virginia Pressler, Health Department director, said she welcomed the conclusions of the report and would work to address deficiencies with the help of Hawaii County.

"The assessment moves us forward, providing a frank evaluation and recommendations. Clearly this outbreak is about more than the state health department, the county, or CDC – it's about all of us. We must all fight the bite if we are to break the cycle of infection and protect ourselves," she said.

To see the full report, click here.

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