Efforts intensify to keep West Nile out of Hawai'i
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
Although there have been no confirmed cases of the West Nile virus here, state health officials are increasing their efforts to prevent the disease from reaching Hawai'i's shores.
The Department of Health is urging residents to eliminate mosquito breeding areas, such as standing water. The sometimes-fatal disease is usually passed from mosquitoes to birds, but can infect other animals and humans.
Officials are concerned that the virus could endanger native birds already on the brink of extinction. The disease cannot be passed between humans.
Cargo ships and airplanes have the potential to bring infected mosquitoes to the islands and health officials are concentrating their efforts within a four-mile radius of Hawai'i's major ports. The Department of Health Vector Control Branch has completed a survey of the area surrounding Honolulu International Airport, and is checking the vicinity around Honolulu Harbor.
The state also will survey Kona International Airport on the Big Island, Kahului Airport on Maui and O'ahu's Kalaeloa harbor area. The survey work includes mosquito traps, which are collected several times a week.
"Early detection followed quickly by aggressive suppression efforts is the state's best defense against West Nile virus," said Greg Olmsted, Vector Control chief. "Eliminating things that hold water and create a place for mosquitoes to breed, like old tires, clogged rain gutters and traps, can greatly reduce the chance of West Nile virus spreading, should it come into the state."
Residents also are asked to report dead birds to the Department of Health. Dead birds could be a sign that the virus is circulating between the birds and mosquitoes in the area, the department said.
The dead birds should not be touched, but should be placed in a plastic bag and taken to a Humane Society office, or the Division of Forestry and Wildlife on the Big Island in Hilo and Kamuela, or on Maui in Kahului.
Most people who become infected with the virus will have few symptoms, which include fever, and head and body aches. On rare occasions, West Nile virus can be fatal.
Anyone with questions about the virus can call the Department of Health at 586-4400 on O'ahu; 933-0912 on the Big Island; 984-8213 on Maui, Moloka'i or Lana'i; and 241-3387 on Kaua'i.
Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.