HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kailua-Kona and Hilo are no longer on the list of areas on the Big Island where becoming infected with dengue fever is a risk. But officials said they aren't letting their guard down, even as the number of cases continues to decline.
The latest risk map released Wednesday shows just three areas on the Big Island with a risk where someone could be infected with the virus: Kealakekua, Hookena and Volcano. That's well below the peak of the outbreak between October and January.
The decline comes as the State Health Department has worked to fill ten positions in the fight against the mosquito-borne disease, including "one entomologist who's been on board almost a month now, a communications specialist who has been aboard about two weeks, and we're in the process of hiring eight new vector control officers for the Big Island," said Keith Kawaoka, the department's Deputy Director of Environmental Health.
State Sen. Josh Green (D-Kona, Ka'u), said the state should do even more to prevent a flareup or any future outbreak.
"I really take it to heart that we have to go way overboard, like they did in Brazil, and get rid of all the affected mosquitoes so that we never worry about this," he said.
There have been 261 confirmed cases of the virus since the outbreak began September. And even with the lull, some areas on the Big Island are still not open to the public, such as Waipio Valley, which was closed in mid-January.
Meanwhile, tourism officials said overall visitor numbers to the island have not been impacted by the outbreak.
"It doesn't show an immediate effect," said Ross Birch, Executive Director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau. "But then we do know that there are specific properties that are within some of the higher risk areas previously that have definitely shown some challenges."
Taking Kailua-Kona and Hilo off the risk list is spreading some cautious optimism that the outbreak is nearing an end. But there's still the so-far elusive goal of four consecutive weeks with a new case before officials can consider the outbreak is over.