Mosquitoes are pesky little critters, and we Alaskans should know, since much of our summer is spent in creative ways to deter and detect these tiny, whiny insects that dine upon tender skin. Now, one of our favorite warm-weather destinations appears to be under siege from a variety of the buggar that seems hell-bent on making people sick – Hawaii has dengue fever.
OK, OK, maybe it’s not necessarily the mosquitos’ fault; after all, they gotta eat, and dengue fever isn’t spread on purpose. But dengue is one of those tropical diseases that send parents into a tailspin of panic, especially since so many of us travel there, and are scheduled to do so over the holidays.
In an effort to tame the terror of dengue, and do a little digging into just how widespread (or not) the current outbreak in Hawaii is, I consulted Alaska Regional Hospital and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Cadogan.
Here’s what I found out in a Q/A session on the phone.
What IS dengue fever?
Dengue is a mosquito-born virus carried by the bugs after they bite an infected person. The disease is usually found in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and South Pacific regions of the world. There are four types of dengue (I-IV), and the type currently affecting the Big Island of Hawaii is type I. A mosquito called Aedes is the culprit, according to researchers.
Is it preventable?
No. Dengue is a virus, not a parasite or infection, so there is no way to prevent its occurance right now. But, dengue can only be transmitted via an infected mosquito; you cannot pass the virus to another person.
What are the symptoms of dengue? Are they different in kids?
Typically, the virus causes extreme joint, muscle, and bone pain (in fact, dengue used to be called “breakbone fever), and a headache. A fever appears suddenly, and often, a rash on the hands, arms, legs, and feet appears. According to Dr. Cadogan, about 1% of people with dengue fever experience bleeding complications related to clotting difficulties, called “severe dengue.” The typical illness lasts about 1-2 weeks, depending upon the individual. Kids will generally experience less severe symptoms than adults, but not always. Any sudden fever within five days of a visit to an affected area warrants a trip to the doctor. Anyone with pre-existing conditions affecting immune systems, kidney problems, or those with infants, should be extra vigilant. Many people don’t know they have dengue, and assume they have the flu.
Can you get dengue more than once?
Unfortunately, yes. Since there are four types of the virus, it is entirely possible to be infected multiple times.
Should we cancel our trip to Hawaii?
No way. Alaskans, you can do this. We fight mosquitoes all summer, and the premises are the same. Avoid being outdoors in the early morning or early evening hours, when mosquitos love to buzz about. Use repellant (read the Hawaii Department of Health guidelines for repellant against this type of mosquito). Wear light-colored, long sleeves and pants. Don’t let water accumulate in buckets, pots, or planters.
Keep an eye on the current conditions through the Hawaii Department of Health; a daily update is given with a comprehensive map of the areas most affected.
As of today, 146 cases have been confirmed. Of those, only 17 were visitors to Hawaii. The Hawaiian government is doing an exemplary job of sharing information to make sure both visitors and residents are kept as safe as possible.
So go ahead, say ‘Aloha,’ and make it a great holiday; and Dr. Cadogan says if you need a physician to go along, he’s game….