State wants to prevent Nile virus from arriving

Officials with the state Department of Health and state Department of Agriculture have joined forces to educate residents on Kaua‘i and across the state on how to prevent the spread of the West Nile Virus.

Cases have been reported in 37 states this year, but no cases have surfaced in Hawai‘i yet, health officials say because the state’s geographic isolation provides a natural barrier against the disease.

But the disease can still reach Hawai‘i through migratory birds, hence the need for the educational campaign, DOH officials said in a news release.

Brochures have been distributed to pet stores, veterinarians, bird clubs and state health offices, and can be viewed on the DOH Web site at http://www.hawaii.gov/doh.

The brochure provides information on how to eliminate mosquitoes that transmit the disease.

Also provided is information for dead-bird collections, which are critical to detecting whether the virus has entered the state, DOH officials said in the news release.

A mosquito that has bitten an infected bird can infect humans. However, the disease is not contagious, and cannot be passed from person to person, officials said.

Dr. Chiyome L. Fukino, state health director, said Hawai‘i joins a few other states that yet to be hit by the disease.

“We must remain vigilant and take special measures to control the spread of WNV (the virus),” she said in a news release. “Certainly, we have the opportunity to truly prevent this harmful virus from entering our environment.”

Because humans can contract the disease from mosquito bites, Fukino urged Hawai‘i residents to continue with mosquito-control methods.

Fukino asked residents to continue to eliminate standing water where mosquitoes breed. “This is a good overall public-health measure, as many other diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, including dengue fever,” Fukino said.

The state experienced an outbreak of dengue fever in the past few years. There were 119 confirmed cases of dengue fever from May, 2001 to February 2002. Of those cases, four were reported on Kaua‘i, in Anahola, Hanalei, Kalaheo and Kapa‘a.

Janice Okubo, DOH public information officer, said there were no confirmed Hawai‘i cases of dengue fever this year. Okubo also said agency officials have seen “imported cases,” and have a surveillance program in place.

The dengue fever virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. The symptoms of dengue fever include the sudden onset of fever; painful headaches; eye, joint and muscle pain; and rash.

The West Nile Virus creates flu-like symptoms in 20 percent of the people infected, DOH officials said.

Less than 1 percent of those infected with the virus will develop West Nile encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.

In this year so far, there have been more than 3,300 reported cases of West Nile Virus on the Mainland, leading to about 70 deaths related to the virus, DOH officials said.

Last year there were 4,156 reported cases involving humans, and 284 deaths, with the virus reaching 44 states.

Hawai‘i has been spared from being hit by the virus so far because of its geographic isolation, Fukino said.

She also said detecting the West Nile Virus in birds is one way of determining whether the virus has entered the state.

State Department of Agriculture officials have established rules for importing birds, including requirements for import permits, inspections upon entry and, in some cases, pre-shipment quarantine procedures, said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, chairperson of the state Board of Agriculture.

She said an embargo preventing the mailing of birds through the U.S. Postal Service remains in effect.

For information on import requirements for birds, contact DOH’s import and compliance section at the Honolulu International Airport, 1-808-837-8092.

Okubo said introduction of the virus also could have devastating effects on Hawai‘i’s bird population.

“The virus can kill birds, and we have rare species in Hawai‘i that don’t have some of the immunity others birds have,” Okubo said. “If that disease came here, that would be a very dangerous threat to our bird species.”

For more information on West Nile Virus, please see the Web site, http://www.state.hi.us/doh/wnv.

Staff Writer Lester Chang may be reached at mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net, or 245-3681 (ext. 225).

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