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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

DOH hunts down mosquitoes

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Health Writer

The Department of Health will embark on an O'ahu mosquito hunt next week as part of its efforts to control dengue fever in the state.

With Health Director Bruce Anderson describing the recent outbreak as still in the "smoldering" stage with 109 confirmed cases, his department has launched a statewide mosquito survey.

By getting a snapshot of mosquito species distribution around the state, the department will be better able to target its resources for control and prevention, Anderson said yesterday.

Vector control crews already have begun placing hundreds of mosquito traps on the Neighbor Islands and will continue the effort on O'ahu next week.

The traps are low-tech: black jars with two paper clips holding two wooden paddles. The paddles provide an attractive place for mosquitoes to lay eggs. Vector control staff will collect the eggs every week and hatch them into the "wiggler" stage so they can be identified.

Deputy Director of Environmental Health Gary Gill asked residents to not disturb the mosquito traps. The jars contain no chemicals or pesticides and are not harmful to people or pets.

There are seven species of mosquito in Hawai'i. While all can carry diseases such as malaria or West Nile virus, experts are particularly concerned with the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been associated with dengue.

Experts are somewhat relieved that the current outbreak has been spread by albopictus. When aegypti carries the virus, dengue fever usually spreads like wildfire. It was aegypti that was responsible for the 1943 outbreak, which left 1,500 people ill.

There are some known pockets of aegypti mosquitoes in the Islands, including South Kona, Moloka'i and Lana'i. Vector control staff already are working with some Kona resorts to help eradicate mosquitoes.

Anderson said it is "attributed largely to luck" that the current outbreak has not spread to areas where aegypti is known to be a problem and where the disease could flare up more seriously.

Because the key to controlling dengue is controlling the mosquito population, Anderson also urged residents to remain vigilant in checking around their homes once a week and removing standing water, which is where mosquitoes lay their eggs.

Even after the current outbreak is over, experts say Hawai'i is vulnerable to imported cases from areas such as Tahiti where dengue is rampant. Hawai'i is circled by nations that have high levels of dengue fever, said Ken Hall, program manager for the department's vector control branch.

"With Hawai'i at the crossroads it's really important that we be as aggressive as possible and stay on top of it as much as we can," he said.

Information on mosquito control and dengue fever can be found at www.hawaii.gov/doh/dengue

Reach Alice Keesing at akeesing@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.