Hookena Beach Park remains closed; confirmed case count reaches 19

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KAILUA-KONA — Hookena Beach Park remained closed Thursday as the number of confirmed dengue fever cases on the Big Island rose to 19.

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KAILUA-KONA — Hookena Beach Park remained closed Thursday as the number of confirmed dengue fever cases on the Big Island rose to 19.

Of those cases, the state Department of Health said a dozen were Hawaii residents and seven were visitors; two were children. The confirmed cases were found in both East and West Hawaii.

State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said the department was able to identify Hookena and Honaunau as “hot spots” because those who came down with the illness remembered visiting the South Kona beach park.

Other than those areas, officials have been mum on where other specific spots could be.

“People really remembered they were there, but they’re not all quite as exact as we would like — there is nothing that is really coming out among all the cases as a commonality,” she said. “If the public is frustrated, so are we. We would love to have something, an ‘aha,’ and be able to say, ‘Go after that,’ but the frustrating thing we see is the onset of this illness stretched from mid-September to Oct. 26. We have a month and a half of cases scattered through that time period.”

Officials also do not want people to become complacent, thinking that it is only in South Kona or one or two areas are impacted.

“It is all over the island, it is frustratingly all over the Big Island,” Park said. “It may have started on one side of the island, and it probably did, and then went to multiple places.”

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Thursday afternoon that Hookena Beach Park would remain closed until further notice while state Department of Health crews spray for mosquitoes and assess its effectiveness. He did not have a time frame for how long such activities will continue, but said it is the only public area impacted at this time.

“I know the community is anxious to get the park open, and as soon as we know there has been improvements and there is confidence it is safe, we will work with the Department of Health and Parks and Recreation to reopen it,” he said.

Charles Young, president of KUPA (Kamaaina United to Protect Aina), which has a Memorandum of Understanding with Hawaii County to help manage the beach park, said the group helped clear Hookena Beach Park Wednesday at the county’s request. On Thursday, the nonprofit continued to prevent entry to the South Kona beach park at Kahauko Bay.

“For the most part, most of the people down at the beach are cooperating,” Young said. “Once you explain to them what the situation is. I think everyone knows the severity of it.”

While closing the beach is a proactive measure to help deter the spread of dengue fever, Young said it will take more to get the problem under control. On Wednesday, he said the KUPA Board of Directors passed a motion to purchase fogging equipment that the organization hopes to eventually make available to area residents

“It’s not just the beach that’s been affected, it’s the entire community (ahupuaa),” he said. “People need to take it seriously. … The community also needs to cooperate with the regulatory agencies and health agencies that are going to help us eliminate the problem. We certainly don’t want to see this extend itself, expand itself, or repeat itself, so, we have to do it and as a community we have to get together and do this together.”

Dengue fever is spread by humans farther than mosquitoes, which means people are key to stopping the virus in its tracks before it spreads to the neighbor islands, said Park. This is in addition to preventative measures like spraying and eliminating standing water.

“The way that we’re going to really curtail this outbreak is to eliminate the lifecycle of the virus — the human is the critical part of the lifecycle. If we don’t allow the mosquito to bite us, the mosquito will die off and the disease will die off,” said Park, adding that mosquitoes have about a four-week lifecycle.

To deter bites, Park insisted that people take preventative measures like avoiding mosquito-ridden areas. If that is not possible, people should protect themselves with long-sleeve shirts and pants, and bug repellent containing DEET and “get out of there sooner than later.”

If someone does suffer mosquito bites, Park said symptoms take anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks to appear. Symptoms of dengue fever include sudden onset of fever, severe headache, eye, joint, and muscle pain, and a rash that typically appears on the hands, arms, legs and feet within four days of the onset of a fever.

Once the fever sets in, the patient is able to infect mosquitoes, which will keep the lifecycle of the dengue fever virus going, Park said.

“You need to stay indoors and away from mosquitoes for the duration of your fever,” she said. “Once the fever breaks and you’re feeling better, you are OK (and no longer contagious to mosquitoes).”

South Kona resident Katrina Schaal, manager at Kealia Ranch Store, said she has seen a dip in business in recent days. By mid-afternoon on a sunny Thursday, just four customers had come in to the store, located mauka and south of Hookena Beach Park.

“There’s hardly any customers today and it might be because the beach is closed,” she said. “It (dengue fever) might be keeping people from going out, or it may be having them go somewhere else.”

Some people coming in to the store are aware and taking preventative measures, like spraying down their children with citronella, while others remain oblivious.

“Most local people are on top of it,” said Schaal, who added that she makes sure her children are wearing long sleeve shirts and pants when heading to Hookena Elementary School. “But, it just seems that some people do not turn on the radio and pay attention.”

She later noted, “Hopefully, it just isn’t going to become a common issue here with so many mosquitoes and vacation rentals that people aren’t maintaining and water sitting. If we just kind of stay aware and do the best we can, we will get through it.”

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Park does expect some assistance from Mother Nature. According to the National Weather Service’s wet season rainfall outlook, areas between October and April could receive 50 percent of the average rainfall.

“Going into a dry time of year is a good thing, but it’s not the end-all solution. The real solution is we all need to be proactive, and not just the Big Island,” Park said.

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