Amid dengue fever outbreak, school with a mosquito problem and no screens asks what it can do

Amid dengue fever outbreak, school with a mosquito problem and no screens asks what it can do
Published: Nov. 11, 2015 at 9:44 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2015 at 10:15 PM HST
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KEALAKEHE, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Classrooms on Kealakehe High School's campus have louvered windows with no screens.

And that's become a big problem with Hawaii Island's dengue fever outbreak, as faculty and students try to prevent themselves from getting bit by mosquitoes.

Dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes. Health officials say there have been 33 confirmed cases of dengue fever on Hawaii Island since mid-September.

Teachers say Kealakehe's classrooms are swarming with mosquitoes.

"You have mosquitoes on your ankles, on your arms most classes throughout the day. We're swatting them, killing them, getting bit," said teacher Derek Monell.

Physical education teacher Gloria Ilagan added, "Students dress out in shorts and tee shirts so they are exposed to mosquitoes constantly."

Principal Wilfred Murakami said the school is using foggers, sprays and mosquito pellets to try to combat the mosquito problem.

"Interiors and exteriors are being treated," he said. "We are very vigilant about making sure that we have a safe environment for our students."

But the mosquitoes keep coming.

Monell said that from the moment he walks on campus, he's "swatting mosquitoes away from myself and the kids are doing the same."

Teachers also say the grass isn't cut frequently enough and when it is custodians let cuttings and debris clog drains and create standing water. Murakami disputes that, saying that the campus doesn't have a problem with standing water.

Dr. Sarah Park, of the state Health Department, say everyone on Hawaii Island should be taking precautions to prevent from getting bit. The initial dengue cases were in South Kona and Kealakeha is in North Kona, but Park said that kind of distance isn't a barrier.

That's because a mosquito can get the dengue fever virus by biting someone who's sick, and then can pass the virus along with subsequent bites.

Murakami said he's continuing to look for ways to combat the mosquito problem, but one of the biggest measures -- screens -- aren't in the short-term plan.

"For them to fabricate and put them in place it would be a large project," he said.

Instead, he's advising students and staff to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes to minimize mosquito bites.

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