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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Banana disease again found on Big Island

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

The banana bunchy top virus, which has decimated the banana industry on O'ahu, was discovered in an area on the Big Island that was declared free of the virus last year.

The state Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that five infected plants were found on a residential property in the Kailua View Estates in Kona. The subdivision is in a 10-mile-square quarantined area where residents are allowed to plant bananas, but cannot transport banana plants to other areas of the island.

Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said the infected plants were destroyed and preliminary surveys of the immediate area turned up no other infestation.

Saneishi said inspectors are trying to determine how the virus got to the area. She said officials are hoping that this was an isolated case and that the virus has not re-established itself in Kona.

"We need to find out the extent of the infestation," Saneishi said. "They've been doing routine surveys of the area just to make sure they would catch some re-emergence relatively quickly."

Bunchy top is a viral disease and is spread by the banana aphid and by people moving infected plants. Symptoms include stunted leaves that may curl upward. Infected plants produce small, deformed fruit.

In 1999, the Department of Agriculture launched a two-year effort to eradicate bunchy top from the North Kona area. More than 175,000 plants were destroyed and the area was declared bunchy top-free.

In March 2001, residents were allowed to replant uninfected plants, but the area remained in quarantine status. East Hawai'i is home to a $4 million banana industry, which so far has not been hit by the bunchy top virus.

Residents in North Kona may report suspected bunchy top-infected plants by calling 974-4140.