Wednesday, December 16, 2015

PSA: Dengue Fever on the Big Island

I don't know how much coverage it's getting outside Hawaii, but here on the Big Island of Hawai‘i we're having the largest outbreak of dengue fever in a U.S. state since World War II (though there have been much larger ones in Puerto Rico and American Samoa). The number of confirmed cases passed a hundred and forty this week, with no immediate signs of slowing down. Dengue fever, if you don't know (as I didn't), is a mosquito-borne viral disease endemic in more than a hundred and ten countries, which can have potentially life-threatening effects.

This isn't the first outbreak in the island chain; the most recent outbreak happened on Maui a few decades ago, though only a total of eighty-seven cases were reported before it was contained. It remains to be seen if it can be similarly contained here on the Big Island, or whether it'll become endemic. Rather unnervingly, up to 80% of people who contract the virus are asymptomatic, so there could potentially be a lot of people on the island who've had it (and are [or were] potential spreaders) but don't know it.

The bright side (if you can call it a bright side) to all this is that the virus comes in five strains, exposure to any one of which grants lifelong immunity to that strain and is likely (as mentioned above) to cause no major problems. So far I don't think there have been any fatalities directly tied to it, despite the large number of reported cases. The problems really begin, however, when someone who's had it once contracts a different strain; then you start to get much higher chances of very dangerous complications.

The outbreak hasn't been confirmed to any particular location, and cases have been reported all over the island, so officials are warning people that infected mosquitoes could be anywhere. If you, gentle reader, are thinking of visiting the Big Island (specifically the Big Island, it hasn't shown up elsewhere yet) in the near future, you'd do well to investigate how things are going and how much progress is being made in the containment process, and take care not to get bitten. Stay safe! A hui hou!

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