September 25, 2002
Honolulu -- The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) –
along with the State Department of Agriculture (DOA), the Department of
Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),
and the University of Hawaii (UH) today announced a precautionary,
statewide effort to prevent the introduction of West Nile virus (WNV)
To date, WNV has not been detected in Hawaii, and there are no
reported cases. The statewide campaign is a precautionary measure
designed to prevent the spread of the virus in the islands, according
to Dr. Bruce Anderson, Director, Department of Health.
"We want to be clear these are preventive actions. There are no
reported cases of West Nile virus in Hawaii to date," said
"Hawaii’s geographic isolation provides a natural barrier from
this disease that is thought to be transmitted by migratory birds. Most
of Hawaii’s migratory birds come from places that, thankfully,
remain West Nile Virus-free, including Alaska," explained Anderson.
"Although the risk for West Nile virus entering the State appears low,
we must be proactive and take all reasonable steps toward preventing
the virus from being introduced here in Hawaii," Anderson added.
Because the most likely carrier of WNV is migratory and wild birds,
the United States Centers of Disease Control (CDC) is recommending
states place a priority on surveying and monitoring their wild bird
populations. Hawaii’s prevention effort focuses on ongoing
surveillance of six categories of wild birds in Hawaii that have been
identified as potential carriers of the virus. They are: House sparrows
and finches; Bulbuls (red-vented and red-whiskered varieties); mynah;
cardinals (Brazilian and North American varieties); owls; and hawks.
State employees from DOH and DLNR will immediately begin monitoring and
testing these six categories of birds that are found dead as the most
effective way to identify the presence of the disease in Hawaii.
The public is being asked to assist with dead wild bird collection
efforts. Anyone finding freshly dead wild birds, especially one of the
six identified categories, should safely collect the bird in a plastic
bag and deliver it to the nearest Hawaii Humane Society office for
testing. While the public should avoid directly touching the dead wild
bird, WNV cannot be contracted via physical contact between birds and
humans. The public should call 586-4400 for more information, or if
they have questions.
In addition to dead wild bird collection and testing, other efforts
to prevent WNV from being introduced into Hawaii include:
- DOA imposed an immediate embargo on birds and poultry shipped to
Hawaii through the US Postal Service, which went into effect on Sept.
- The Hawaii Board of Agriculture will be considering imposing
additional pre-entry requirements for imported birds at its meeting
tomorrow (9/26) in Hilo;
- Ongoing monitoring and testing of all ships and planes arriving in
Hawaii through the state’s existing Port of Entry Program which
seeks to prevent mosquitoes and other disease-carrying pests from
entering the state;
- Ongoing mosquito control and surveillance programs statewide
focused on eliminating mosquito breeding sites;
- A new, public education web site has been created that features
information about West Nile virus, and what the public can do to help
prevent the spread of the disease.
"We also test human blood samples for the virus at the request of
local physicians, and continue to work closely with Hawaii’s
medical community and urge them to be on the lookout for symptoms of
the disease as another precautionary measure," added Anderson.
"Without these precautionary measures in place, West Nile virus has
the potential to become a serious health threat in Hawaii," cautioned
Anderson. "All of the appropriate state agencies are working closely
together to prevent it from getting to Hawaii," he added.
DLNR has cautioned the public that WNV could have a serious impact
on native birds. "Our native forest birds are generally affected by
most introduced diseases and will likely be highly susceptible to this
new virus," said Mike Buck, DLNR. "We’re asking the public to
help us protect one of Hawaii’s most precious natural resources
– our native birds – by helping keep West Nile virus out of
Hawaii," he added.
Dead wild bird drop off points have been set up across the state
including the Humane Society on Oahu and Kauai, the Division of
Forestry and Wildlife/DLNR in Hilo and Kamuela on the Big Island and in
Kahului on Maui. DLNR offices are only open during usual business hours
and not on weekends.
WNV has continued to spread across the country, affecting birds,
animals and humans at a faster rate than predicted by health officials.
WNV is primarily a wild bird disease and is transmitted by mosquitoes.
However, it can cause serious and sometimes fatal disease in
Nationally, WNV has been identified in 42 states, with a pattern of
advancement consistent with the movement of migratory and wild birds.
Humans can be infected by a mosquito that’s bitten an infected
bird, but do not pass on the disease.
In humans, the WNV creates flu-like symptoms in about 20% of
infected people and in less than 1% of infected people causes a severe
and sometimes fatal illness known as West Nile encephalitis (an
inflammation of the brain). There have been 2,072 reported cases of WNV
nationally, and 98 WNV-related fatalities.
Hawaii recently successfully contained and controlled an outbreak of
Dengue fever, primarily through a public-private partnership effort to
prevent and eliminate mosquitoes and mosquito-breeding sites. The
Department of Health will continue to stress the need for ongoing
mosquito control efforts in Hawaii as part of an overall effort to
protect public health in the islands. For more information on the WNV,
visit the Department of Health web site at www.state.hi.us/doh/wnv.