How Big Island Transfer Stations Help Reduce the Spread of Dengue Fever in Hawaii

How Big Island Transfer Stations Help Reduce the Spread of Dengue Fever in Hawaii

As an active outbreak of Dengue fever persists on the Big Island of Hawaii, the island’s transfer stations are playing a role in reducing potential breeding grounds and the mosquito population responsible for spreading the illness.

To support home and business owners in cleaning and removing potential breeding areas, the County of Hawaii Department of Environmental Management has extended its weekend transfer station hours for the month of April. All transfer stations island-wide are open on both Saturday and Sunday for the month of April from the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Residents of the Big Island have access to the transfer stations to help dispose of any items that have the potential to catch and hold water. Common breeding sites are in water found in old tires, clogged roof gutters, cans, bottles, unused swimming pools, and other toys, buckets and tarps in yards and landscapes.

Dengue fever is a viral illness transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Two of the mosquitos that transmit the virus are found on Hawai‘i Island, the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Dengue cannot move directly from person to person—only from an infected person to a mosquito, then after an incubation period, to another person.

The overall case count of those infected remains at 263, according to state numbers. Since the September 2015 onset of the outbreak, 237 Big Island residents were infected with the Dengue virus. An additional 26 island visitors also contracted the disease. Dengue is not endemic to Hawaii. However, it is intermittently imported from endemic areas by infected travelers.

Those travelers may have infected local mosquitoes, as happened in an outbreak on Maui in 2001 that spread to O‘ahu and Kaua‘i before ending in 2002. Symptoms may include sudden onset of fever, severe headaches, eye, joint and muscle pain and rashes on the hands, arms, legs or feet.

The most effective way to keep from contracting dengue is to avoid mosquito bites through personal protection and by reducing mosquito habitats by eliminating standing water near homes and businesses. Discarded garbage and tires that can hold water becomes breeding ground for the mosquitos that are spreading the illness.

Governor David Ige recently signed a supplemental proclamation to extend the state’s emergency period for combating mosquito-borne illnesses. The proclamation, extends the emergency period for another 60 days, and includes not just dengue fever, but all mosquito-borne illnesses, including the Zika virus. Ige originally declared a state of emergency on Feb. 12, four days after Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi issued an emergency declaration in the face of the dengue fever outbreak.

“We are grateful to Governor Ige for taking proactive measures to ensure that our counterparts in the counties and at the Department of Health are able to utilize the resources they need to prevent another outbreak of mosquito borne diseases in Hawai’i,” said Vern Miyagi, Administrator of Emergency Management in a statement. “It is critical that we all do our part, both residents and visitors, to take personal precautions to prevent mosquito bites and the spread of these illnesses.”

A healthcare provider notifies the State Department of Health of an infected patient, mobilizing a response to control mosquitos in the vicinity of the patient. Investigators learn where patients may have been infected. Crews then survey and treat areas of concern connected to that case, with the goal of eliminating any infected mosquitos.

Additionally, concerned citizens are reporting to Hawaii County Civil about mosquito hazards on public property and private property when attempts to contact those homeowners are unsuccessful. Civil Defense staff, along with Community Emergency Response Teams, assess situations and work with property owners to mitigate the concerns. That may include property clean-up of litter and yard waste where water collects and mosquitos lay eggs.

“The response to dengue on Hawai‘i Island is an active partnership between government, health care providers, non-profits, businesses, and our residents,” Darryl Oliveira, Hawai‘i County Civil Defense administrator said in a statement. “Mahalo to all those in our community who are working to stop this outbreak.”

The Department of Environmental Management, Solid Waste Division also is implementing a Temporary Dengue Residential Tire Amnesty Collection Program to aid the community in reducing the risk of mosquito breeding sites by recycling old tires. Originally set to collect through March, the program is now collecting through June 2016.

Since November, households have been dropping off passenger vehicle, motorcycle or ATV tires with no rims to any of the Solid Waste Division's 22 Recycling & Transfer Stations during normal operating hours. Transfer stations are accepting up to 10 tires per day per vehicle. The collection is for households only, and is not intended for businesses.

Transfer stations are not accepting tires from businesses, commercial haulers, non-profits or farms. Industrial tires such as backhoe, tractor and forklift tires also are excluded from the amnesty program.

The County of Hawaii Department of Environmental Management says the Temporary Dengue Residential Tire Amnesty Collection Program could be extended if conditions warrant additional time to fight the outbreak.

Civil Defense said that although the number of confirmed cases of dengue fever appears to be on the decline and conditions continue to improve, continued vigilance is needed to end the outbreak. 

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