Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, October 23, 2003

Cases of murine typhus down after setting record in 2002

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

Twenty-five cases of murine typhus had been reported in Hawai'i through September, falling short of the pace of last year's record outbreak.

There were 35 cases by the end of September 2002 and 47 by year's end — the highest annual figure since 1947.

State Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said this year's higher-than-normal count — including a tripling of cases on O'ahu to nine — probably reflects vigilance that grew out of last year's outbreak.

Previously, the Islands reported an average of only four to five cases of murine typhus a year.

Maui experienced the brunt of cases last year — 35 — and the Valley Isle leads again this year with 11 cases, followed by the nine on O'ahu, four on Kaua'i and one on Moloka'i.

The bacteria that cause the disease are carried by the fleas on rodents. Infection occurs when flea feces enters a flea bite wound or is inhaled. In most cases, the result is a flu-like illness with fever, headaches, body aches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and a rash. It is treated with antibiotics.

The 2002 outbreak corresponded with an explosion in Maui's mouse population in late spring and summer, when rodents and fleas are most active. Officials said vector-control workers started rodent control early this year and haven't seen the overwhelming numbers of mice seen last year.

As happened in 2002, some of the cases on Maui this year worsened to the point where victims required hospitalization.

Stephen Pysz of Lahaina, who suffered one of the most severe cases last year, died in August. But the death was from pneumonia and not caused by complications from murine typhus, according to his brother, Dennis Pysz of Dana Point, Calif.

Stephen Pysz, a 50-year-old photographer and Navy veteran, survived three weeks in a coma from murine typhus, but suffered brain damage that required him to be under 24-hour care. He was transferred from Tripler Army Medical Center to a Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., where he died Aug. 26, four days after coming down with pneumonia, his brother said.

A memorial will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mala Wharf in Lahaina.