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Officials step up fight against mosquito-borne diseases

Maui County Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang (center) talks with people near Twin Falls in Haiku in February about distributing bug repellent. On Friday, Maui health officials started driving along Hana Highway with a giant water-gun spraying trees with diluted detergent to kill mosquito larvae in an effort to step up the fight against mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus and dengue fever. County of Maui photo via AP

Maui health officials are driving along a scenic coastal highway with a giant water-gun spraying trees and brush with diluted detergent to kill mosquito larvae.

They’re stepping up the fight against mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus, dengue fever and chikungunya, and handing out bug spray along cliff-hugging Hana Highway, which is dotted with lush waterfalls and hiking trails popular with tourists.

“Along this corridor we’ve got what, a million people per year, and we’ve got, trust me, 10 times the number of mosquitoes biting them,” said Maui County Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang.

Public health officials are visiting attractions along Hana Highway such as Twin Falls and a banana bread stand, asking property managers and others to distribute bug spray to guests. Officials distributed bug spray along the same path during a dengue fever outbreak in 2001, Pang said.

A recent outbreak of dengue fever on the Big Island prompted Maui officials to distribute spray again and to take other proactive steps. The Big Island dengue outbreak, which ended in April, sickened more than 260 people.

Pang and others are using water-guns to splash far-flung trees and forest vegetation with watered-down dish detergent, which Pang says is more environmentally friendly than pesticides and kills larvae over the course of a couple hours.

“We have shown in our backyard laboratory the stuff does kill the wigglers,” Pang said. Residents along the roadway “kind of don’t like chemicals, they’re organic nature folks, and me too. So a mild soap that degrades in a few hours is right on the money for this.”

There have been no known local transmissions of the diseases on Maui, but officials are getting more calls to investigate potential cases, Pang said.

“Before we were doing four or five investigations a year of imported cases,” Pang said. “Now we look like we’re going to do 40 or 50 a year.”

To respond to the public’s desire for information, Maui officials are tracking disease incidents on a digital map and they’re producing a monthly video on cable television.

Beginning this month, Pang is presenting a report and educational video on Akaku Community Media, which rebroadcasts the video four times a day before “Curtain Call.” Links to the video and an updated case map also will be available at www.mauiready.org/mosquito and www.mauicounty.gov.

“We used to see several cases of imported suspect cases of mosquito-borne diseases coming into Maui each year,” Pang noted. “Now we’re seeing several of these cases per month.”

Health officials have reported a handful of imported cases of Zika on Maui. A community meeting in Wailuku was called in August after three residents returned home infected with the virus.

Questions regarding mosquito-borne diseases can be directed to the Maui District Health Office at 243-8649.

* The Maui News contributed to this report.

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