Ignorance adds to dengue fever woes on Maui
|||Online special: Dengue fever: health crisis in the making|
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau
NAHIKU, Maui Coming down with dengue fever can be a dreadful physical challenge. But facing the ignorance of neighbors and strangers afterward can be pretty lousy, too.
The Hali'imaile resident had just gotten over the disease a couple of weeks ago when he was discussing it with tellers at his bank. A customer standing nearby overheard a bit of the conversation and asked if Aquinde had contracted dengue fever. When Aquinde said he had, the woman backed away, shooting him a glance that said: "Don't come any closer.''
"Don't you read the papers?'' he fired back. "I'm not the one, it's the mosquito.''
The dengue virus is transmitted only through mosquitoes. Once you come down with the disease, you're a carrier for only about five days after the onset of symptoms.
Dengue is a viral infection spread via mosquitoes that bite an infected person and then carry the virus to the next person. People cannot infect other people. To date, there is no treatment for the disease.
Many dengue fever victims aren't interested in being in the spotlight, afraid they'll be stigmatized and ostracized.
"You have to be careful who you talk to about it,'' said a Nahiku woman who contracted dengue fever in August and did not want to be identified. "The complexity of the disease is hard for most people to grasp easily the people-to-mosquito-to-people thing, the four strains ... some just don't understand.''
Another victim, a man from Ha'iku who also asked to remain anonymous, said he casually mentioned his plight at a neighborhood store and soon started getting phone calls at home from strangers warning him not to spread the disease.
State Sen. J. Kalani English, D-5th (Wailuku, Kahului, Upcountry), who revealed last week he came down with the disease while working at his late grandmother's Hamoa home, said a waitress at the Hotel Hana-Maui visited a store in Central Maui and was told to steer clear of the area.
Her retort: "Get educated!''
Timothy Hurley The Honolulu Advertiser
Bruce and Debby Stoner of Nahiku, Maui, were among the first dengue fever victims identified by state health officials.
Timothy Hurley The Honolulu Advertiser
When Aquinde and his wife, Janice, heard unconfirmed rumors that Hana residents were being discouraged from coming to the County Fair earlier in the month, they felt badly and decided to do something about it.
With the help of the Salvation Army, they collected about 60 stuffed animals. They told County Councilman Robert Carroll of Hana they wanted to take them to the children of East Maui, and soon county employees also began donating to the cause.
The result: lots and lots of stuffed animals that were distributed at an Aloha Festivals gathering last weekend in Hana.
Not everyone is treated badly after going public. Then again, the Stoner family of Nahiku hasn't done much traveling since coming down with dengue in late August.
The Stoners, who live amid the wet Nahiku jungle in a Swiss Family Robinson-style house with no doors or windows, were the first to be tested for the disease following an examination by state health officials.
At first, 61-year-old Bruce Stoner didn't know what was afflicting him, his wife and two children. It seemed like a bad case of the flu. Then it got worse.
"It's worse than the flu.'' Stoner said. "I guess you aren't doing to die, but there are times when it doesn't seem like such a bad idea."
Stoner's 18-year-old son, Russell, got sick first. Then his wife, Debby, fell ill.
Bruce Stoner said he was amazed that what he thought was a bad strain of flu could send her to bed.
"She's one of those people who never gets sick," he said.
Then it hit him strong and hard. He went to bed and tried not to think.
"Just the activity of having a thought hurt," he said, adding that "it's like somebody razor-blading your brain.''
For days, Stoner moved between pain-filled wakefulness and a blurrier but equally pain-filled state he was reluctant to call sleep. During the wakeful times, he drank guava juice and swallowed large doses of Tylenol to keep the high fever at bay.
When his wife broke out in a rash and complained of hot and itchy hands and feet, local doctors began to suspect dengue fever and summoned specialists with the state Department of Health.
"But by that time," he said, "the terrorists had attacked and all the planes were grounded."
During the recuperation phase, the couple suffered from fits of irritability and long and heavy bouts of depression.
Today, Stoner still feels the disease in his mouth and in his head, suffering what he calls dengue flashbacks.
Even so, Stoner refuses to put screens on his windows. He knows he's immune to this particular strain of dengue, and he'll take his chances with the three others.
"Where else in the world can you live like this?'' he said, gesturing to the lush, idyllic surroundings.
Staff writers Karen Blakeman and Yasmin Anwar contributed to this report.