The Hawaii Department of Health has now confirmed that 19 cases of dengue fever were acquired locally on the Big Island.

DOH officials announced four new cases Thursday, saying that a total of 12 residents have now contracted the viral illness along with seven visitors. The Big Island is the only destination in Hawaii impacted thus far.

Janice Okuba, a DOH spokeswoman, said all of the residents and visitors “are either recovered or recovering, [and some of] the visitors have returned home.”

DOH officials believe the onset of the virus on the Big Island ranges between Sept. 15 and Oct. 27. The last confirmed cases of dengue in Hawaii were on Oahu in 2011, when four people were diagnosed with the disease.

“Although dengue is not endemic to Hawaii, we do have the mosquito species capable of transmitting the disease,” state Epidemiologist Sarah Park said in a DOH statement. “It’s likely an infected traveler infected the local mosquito population, which led to this cluster, so we want the public to be aware of this mosquito-borne disease and the steps they can take to prevent infection.”   

Dengue virus is spread through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, according to Hawaii DOH officials, and is not commonly spread from one person to another. Symptoms include a sudden fever; severe headaches; eye, joint and muscle pain; and rash. The rash generally appears on the hands, arms, legs and feet three to four days after the fever begins. Symptoms usually subside completely within one to two weeks.

George Szigeti, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) president and CEO, said in a Nov. 5 statement that his organization is monitoring the confirmed cases of dengue fever originating on the Big Island, but he reminded people that no cases have been reported on other islands.  

“We are unaware of any cancellations related to dengue fever,” he added, “but will continue to work with industry stakeholders and our global marketing contractors to ensure that visitors to Hawaii know that it is safe to travel to the Hawaiian Islands.”

DOH officials said the risk of the dengue virus spreading to other Hawaiian Islands is low. They are advising people on the Big Island to minimize their exposure to mosquitoes, suggesting the use of insect repellent with 20% to 30% DEET and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.  

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