Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dengue Risk

     We just got back from a trip to Hilo for New Year's. At first Dad said when we planned the trip midyear, “Maximum stay at our house—four days. Rent a car and stay at a hotel for the remainder.” (They're getting old and our kids get noisy. Mostly, he was concerned about Mom working too hard making meals, cleaning, going on outings, and staying up late. Since he depends on her a lot due to a medical condition, his concern is legitimate.) That was before the dengue fever outbreak starting in September that now numbers greater than two hundred, most cases having originated in the Kona region, where we had planned to spend time at. But as our trip approached and the dengue cases rose, then dropped, then leveled off at a steady seven or so new cases per week, we canceled all plans to drive outside Hilo, which had possibly only a handful of cases that had originated there.
     When Mom and Dad came over for Thanksgiving and Mom heard of our revised plan to stay two nights in a Hilo hotel that happened to be in a “some risk” zone (downgraded earlier from a “moderate risk” zone), she said we could stay at their house (in the no known cases zone) all the time and use their car. I said make sure to clear it with Dad first, which she later did, so we canceled our hotel and rental car reservations.
     Having read up about how to avoid dengue, we all brought along and wore long sleeve shirts and pants, shoes, and insect repellent on face, neck, and exposed wrist/back of hands. Yet when we arrived at the airport, which was in the “some risk” zone in the early hours of the morning when the dengue carrying mosquitoes are most active (as well as early evenings), I was astounded to see the apparent lax attitude of so many tourists and locals alike—some in shorts and t-shirts, and none of whom we saw apply skin protection before deplaning as we had.
     Our trips to the mall and drives through downtown (mostly only indoor activities on this trip) revealed a general laxity by large percentages of the population—even a bikini clad little girl of about age six at Ice Pond, across Banyan Golf Course where there must be ample mosquito breeding grounds.
     Sure, the risk was low, and no known deaths have yet been reported, but why take the chance? Also, taking ample precautions is the responsible thing to do to eradicate the virus altogether, for the more people that catch it, the longer it will likely linger and the further it will likely spread—which was probably how it came to Hawaii in an an infected individual in the first place.
     Back in 2002, a church friend said he was really sick for awhile and someone said I hope it wasn't dengue (because of an outbreak in Maui and small parts of Oahu at the time.)
     He said, “No, but I wish it was.”
     “You wanted dengue?” she asked.
     “Yeah, I really wanted it.” 
     “Why?” I asked, wondering if he was serious.
     “I don't know. I just know I really wanted it,” he said, nodding conviction.
     My friend Norm in Seattle said it's called “bone-break fever” because it makes you feel like every bone in your body is broken. His ex-patriot friends in Guatemala have caught it multiple times and from what I've read, later episodes can be far more severe.
     Our friend from church that said he wanted it is a bit of a character. I didn't doubt his sincerity but wondered at his sanity. Who'd crave something as awful as dengue? I can only assume he had no idea or wanted some macho bragging rights.
     I hope no one looked at us in Hilo and thought we were selfish with a “better you get bitten than I” attitude. I wouldn't want anyone to get bitten or infected and I hope the outbreak gets eliminated once and for all, sooner rather than later. But judging from what we saw, I have my doubts. Unless these things naturally go in cycles or self-eradicate in non-indigenous regions, it may be here for a long, long time. The state is doing its part (according to federal officials); locals and travelers must do their parts, too.  Please help stop the spread.

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