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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

West Nile virus poses no threat yet to Islands

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

A tourist from Minnesota came to Hawai'i carrying the West Nile virus Sept. 29, but because humans are "dead end" carriers who cannot transmit the disease, his case poses no threat, state Health Department officials said Wednesday.

Positive results for the virus in a sample of the man's blood were reported to the department on Tuesday, but the visitor has long since returned to Minnesota and has survived the infection.

The virus, which is spreading steadily across the Mainland, is transmitted to humans when a mosquito bites a bird infected with the virus, then bites a human.

But the viremia, or level of the virus, is so relatively low in humans, they cannot transmit it to other people or back to mosquitoes, the Health Department said.

The man was seen by a doctor while he was in Hawai'i, with flu-like symptoms he had begun experiencing before he left Minnesota, where the presence of the virus has been confirmed. The physician ordered blood drawn to try to identify the illness, and the results were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because the case was "imported," Hawai'i is still considered to be free of the virus.

The department has received dead wild birds turned in by the public and begun testing them for the virus, as part of a statewide preventive strategy to keep Hawai'i free of West Nile, state Health Director Bruce Anderson said.

If birds do become infected, that will indicate the virus has arrived in the state in a manner that could lead to the spread of the disease from birds via mosquitoes to humans, he said. Tests this week have failed to detect the virus.