Rare mosquito could threaten Hawaii with disease

Health Dept.: Disease-carrying mosquito found at Honolulu International Airport

Published  11:00 PM HST Jul 21, 2013
HONOLULU -

Along with million of visitors coming to Hawaii, there is concern something more sinister could slip into the state.  It could be coming from almost everywhere.

"We're focusing on ports of entry, airports and harbors where likely disease-bearing organisms might be imported from overseas," said Gary Gill, the Deputy Director for the Department of Health's Environmental Health Administration.

Health officials are looking at diseases like dengue fever, which has been a problem in other parts of the world, but, so far, not here.

The usual culprit for spreading dengue fever between people is the mosquito, but Hawaii's mosquitoes aren't very good at passing on the disease.

Last year, another breed of mosquito showed up in the islands -- one that is very good at spreading disease.

"If this other mosquito gets re-established in Hawaii, it's the one known for spreading dengue far and wide where dengue exists in the world," said Gill.

Since last year, that more dangerous mosquito has been found three more times, which Gill states could mean the insects have established breeding areas.

It's hard for the state to know fore sure because the mosquitoes have all been found at the same location -- the Honolulu International Airport.  That's the only place the state checks for these invasive species.

The insects could be coming in at other airports or Hawaii's harbors, but there aren't enough health department workers to watch out for these tiny threats.

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"The Legislature authorized four vector control positions.  We asked for eight and more than 40 have been eliminated previously," said Gill.

Vector control used to actively seek out mosquito breeding grounds to stop these insects.  But now, the few workers left are busy dealing with other disease-carrying creatures like rats.  Gill says the department needs even more employees to stop this tiny threat from spreading.

Hawaii has had a small number of dengue fever, but in 2001 an outbreak sickened more than 150 people.  All of those cases came before the disease-spreading mosquito arrived in the islands.

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