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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Lai'e surprised by dengue fever spotlight

 •  Special report: Dengue fever: health crisis in the making

By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer

LA'IE — Few would suspect that this bustling North Shore college town built by the Mormon church in 1865 would play unwitting host to the dengue fever virus.

Rani Kaanaana holds a can of mosquito repellent marked for use in Ace Hardware, where she is a clerk. Since two cases of dengue fever have been confirmed in La'ie, rumors abound about how the disease arrived there.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

La'ie is not nearly as lush and humid as neighbors closer to Kane'ohe, such as Kahana, Punalu'u and Waiahole.

Nor is it as rural, with its shopping center, Brigham Young University campus, Mormon temple complex and ever-popular Polynesian Cultural Center anchoring the 6,100-population community.

So reports that two of the town's residents have contracted the mosquito-borne disease brought an unexpected local dimension to the community's post-Sept. 11 troubles.

"We've got to worry about war, anthrax — and now mosquitoes?" said Roger Ramones, produce manager at Foodland.

In recent days Hawai'i's dengue searchlight has shifted from the East Maui epicenter of the outbreak. Of 62 cases confirmed statewide yesterday, 44 are in the Hana area. But now the focus is on O'ahu, home to more than 70 percent of the state's population. Despite only six confirmed cases here, many residents worry the disease could spread quickly if not taken seriously.

Of five cases along the Windward coast, two are in La'ie. Some say dengue's arrival is inevitable given the town's large Polynesian contingent. Dengue fever is endemic in Tahiti and American Samoa.

Dengue update
(As of noon yesterday)
Confirmed cases
Statewide 62

Maui 52
Hana area 44
Ha'iku 3
Kihei 1
Pukalani 1
Lahaina 1
Makawao 1
Pa'ia 1

O'ahu 6
Honolulu 1
Kailua 1
La'ie 2
Kane'ohe 2

Kaua'i 4
Anahola 1
Kalaheo 1
Hanalei 1
Princeville 1

Cases tested positive
(preliminary screening) 2

Maui 2
Kihei 1
Wailuku 1

 •  Suspected cases
Statewide 258

Includes anyone who complains of two dengue-like symptoms in addition to fever.

Brigham Young officials say the university has about 300 Pacific Island students. And the Polynesian Cultural Center is a steady draw for Pacific Islanders, many of whom work for the entertainment complex in exchange for college tuition.

La'ie physician Marc Schlachter noted that he had seen sporadic cases of suspected dengue fever in the past, but none had been confirmed until now.

He said it's likely the virus came to La'ie from the South Pacific, but how it established itself in the community remains a mystery.

State health officials say none of the Windward's five dengue fever victims reported travel to dengue hotspots such as East Maui or the South Pacific. But they concede the victims could have caught the disease from mosquitoes that had bitten dengue carriers who had traveled to hotspots but were not themselves showing symptoms.

Disease detectives may never find out how dengue got to La'ie, but there is no shortage of rumors.

Some suspect waterlogged trash attracted mosquitoes, and expressed hope the dengue scare would help clean up some of the filthier spots around town.

"If it gets the place cleaned up, that's good," said Frank Lorusso, owner of the Haircut Store.

Rani Kaanaana, a clerk at Ace Hardware Pioneer, kept a can of mosquito repellent behind the cash register. "Sometimes they wander into the store," she said.

The dengue virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. Victims usually suffer a sudden onset of high fever, severe headaches, joint and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash.

In Hawai'i the virus is believed to be transmitted by Aedes albopictus, a mosquito that bites during the day.

BYU spokesman Robert Wakefield had no reports of students with dengue fever. He said the entire campus community has received e-mails informing them of the threat.

Information technology student Lau Niumatalolo said dengue fever is the No. 3 subject on campus, after the war and anthrax. A native of American Samoa, he's familiar with the topic, though he's never suffered from the disease.

American Samoa has had three dengue outbreaks since 1976, and there are more than 800 cases under investigation there now.

Niumatalolo said poor sanitation has caused dengue to get out of control in Samoa, but he doubts that would happen in Hawai'i.

"We have a lot of mosquitoes back home. A lot of people don't take precautions," Niumatalolo said. "But it's different here — I hope."