State didn't tell public, city about confirmed cases of Zika - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State didn't tell public, city about confirmed cases of Zika

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The state Health Department failed to publicly report seven confirmed cases of travel-associated Zika on Oahu this year.

The cases occurred in April, June and August.

"Frankly, we did not notify the county properly. Looking ahead, we're going to develop procedures and protocols," said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director for Environmental Health.

He added that health officials will meet with city officials this week to "talk about those kinds of procedures so that they know about potential, suspected and confirmed cases -- even if it turns out to be negative or not infectious. The county agency ... should know what is potentially going on in their county."

From January to March, the Health Department publicly reported three confirmed cases of travel-associated Zika on Oahu.

But nothing has been reported since.

And Hawaii News Now learned there were seven additional confirmed cases of Zika that were not disclosed to the public or city officials. All of those cases involved people who had been infected with Zika outside of the islands.

When asked whether it is the state's responsibility to keep the public up to date on Zika, Kawaoka said, "I think the public awareness is very high. They're very astute about what is going on."

He added, "If any situation happens here -- even remotely -- the county should know, because it's their county. Regardless of what county it is, they should know what is happening on their island."

Of the seven unreported Zika cases, three were visitors.

The Health Department says it followed all protocol in responding to each of these cases with vector control surveillance, testing and treatment.

Health officials just didn't inform anyone.

State Rep. Della Belatti, chairwoman of the House Health Committee Chair, said the situation is concerning.

She added she also wants to know how the Health Department is ensuring the people confirmed to have Zika are getting proper care "and that the precautions are being taken that those individuals do not become sources of locally-transmitted (Zika)."

"This issue of public information is critical, clearly, because that will help strengthen the safety net," she said.

Since January, there have been two confirmed travel-related Zika cases on Kauai and another two imported cases on Maui. Those cases were reported to the counties and the public. There have been no confirmed cases on Hawaii Island.

Zika is spread by mosquitoes, and is linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, in which children are born with an abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

Outbreaks of the Zika virus are being seen in several countries, including much of South America and in Micronesia. Local transmission of the Zika virus has also been reported in American Samoa and parts of Florida.

Officials stressed that Hawaii has seen no cases of locally-acquired Zika.

Still, the number of imported cases has nearly doubled from last year, raising the risk of local transmission.

That's why the Health Department says both residents and visitors need to take proper precautions, especially if they travel abroad in areas that have the Zika virus.

Earlier this year, as the state was grappling with the dengue outbreak on Hawaii Island, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised concerns about Hawaii's ability to handle the growing threat from Zika.

The Health Department has quell those concerns, and has also beefed up staffing and awareness.

Travelers headed to destinations with the Zika virus are asked to monitor their health for three weeks after returning because the disease incubation period is roughly three to 12 days.

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