Big Island dengue outbreak is not its first - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Big Island dengue outbreak is not its first

Milolii Park closed Milolii Park closed
KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The dengue fever outbreak that's received so much news coverage in recent months is not the Big Island's first.

That news comes as West Hawaii closed its second park because of dengue fever concerns.

Milolii Beach Park in the tiny South Kona fishing town has been closed to the public and closed signs were posted there on Thursday.

The county closed the park because of a cluster of new dengue fever cases there coupled with heavy mosquito activity.

Milolii has a population of only about 300 people and depends on catchment systems for drinking water. Water tanks that are not covered can become major breeding grounds for mosquitoes unless the water is properly treated. 

"We've had a previous outbreak here," said South Kona State Rep. Richard Creagan, a former emergency room doctor in Kona.

He said people got dengue fever in the Milolii area back in 1993 and 1994 but the outbreak went undetected at the time and was not confirmed until ten years later when those who got sick finally were tested for dengue.  It was referred to as the mysterious “Milolii flu,” Creagan said.

"The good news is that the outbreak stopped without any intervention by the health department or by anybody," Creagan said.

Creagan said the mid-1990s outbreak went away once a severe drought hit the Big Island in 1995.

"I think what we're having is periodic outbreaks, some of them so small, they aren't detected. So the outbreaks then die off and other people come in and start a new outbreak," Creagan said.

Tropical disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas is concerned even about the relatively small Hawaii County dengue outbreak.  

"This is an issue that we have to take seriously, as seriously as we did the Ebola epidemic in West Africa last year," Hotez said.

Since some people don't show the obvious symptoms of dengue fever, Hotez said like all epidemics, he believes the actual cases of dengue on the Big Island are significantly more than the number being reported.

"But having said that, even if the numbers are two to three times higher - it's still a relatively small contained epidemic but I think it's something that we have to watch with great concern," Hotez said.

The state Health Department said Thursday that the number of dengue cases on the Big Island rose to 180, up from 176 on Wednesday.

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