Hawaii’s governor David Ige declared a state of emergency for mosquito-borne illnesses on Sunday, including Zika and dengue fever. The latter has been an especially urgent concern, with over 250 confirmed cases of dengue reported during the current outbreak.
The Associated Press reports there have been no reported cases of local Zika transmission in Hawaii. However, the first case of infant brain damage reported in the United States came from Hawaii, where a child with microcephaly was born to a woman who lived in Brazil early in her pregnancy.
Six residents of Hawaii are known to have contracted Zika during travels to the outbreak areas. In addition to the South American and Caribbean countries noted as sources of Zika infection, the virus is active on Pacific islands including American Samoa, which enjoys regular air travel with Hawaii.
“We are doing everything we can to be prepared, to be proactive, to prevent vector borne diseases here in Hawaii,” said Governor Ige, when issuing his emergency order.
The AP reports Hawaii is “rushing to build up its mosquito control staff after a December report from the Centers for Disease Control highlighted deficiencies in the state’s vector control department,” since Hawaii “slashed its moquito control and entomology staff during the economic downturn.”
“We are actively hiring new staff, an entomologist that will be dedicated to Hawaii Island that will be starting next week as well as additional communications and vector control staff,” said state Department of Health director Virginia Pressler, after the governor’s emergency order released more funding for the department.
Another aspect of the emergency order gives mosquito control officials the ability to spray property with pesticides, even if the owner objects. There has been much controversy about pesticide use in Hawaii over recent years, including allegations that agriculture companies are spraying too many pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides on their crops.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) described dengue as a “public health emergency on Hawaii Island” and said there was an “emerging threat of a possible Zika crisis,” when asking for swift approval of additional health funding for his state in Senate Appropriations Committee hearings last week.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports the state’s other Sen. Tulsi Gabbard has criticized Governor Ige for being too slow to declare a state of emergency over the dengue fever outbreak.