- Special Projects
Chad Blair: Aloha everybody and welcome to another installment of the Pod Squad. Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. And today, an interesting discussion about dengue outbreak on the Big Island.
Cory Lum our photographer, Anthony Quintano, our engagement editor, and Jessica Terrell, our reporter, went to the Big Island for a day, and they’re here to share with us what they saw and what they learned. Let’s start with you Jess. What was it like to be in mosquito hell?
Jessica Terrell: Well, I think it’s probably mosquito hell for people who live in certain portions of the island, but we actually didn’t run into too many mosquitos, even though we really did lather up and prepare for it. I think I wore jeans and I had knee-high socks on underneath and I had hiking boots. And I wasn’t the only one. There were other reporters from other organizations there — I think I saw one who was wearing like a long windbreaker in addition to being pretty clothed up.
Blair: What about head gear? Did you have anything … because mosquitos can bite everywhere. Cory what were you wearing?
Cory Lum: Just my hair.
Blair: Well, did you get stung at all? Did a mosquito bite you?
Lum: No, I was fine. There were no mosquitos to report that got close to me. I did see them flying around Anthony and there was some kind of bug flying around Jessica at one point.
Blair: Did you lather up? Did you have some sort of repellent?
Anthony Quintano: As soon as we arrived to our tour — our first spot which was a gymnasium not too far from the airport …
Blair: Kailua-Kona right?
Quintano: Yeah, as soon as we stepped out of the car, I’m swatting them away from my ear. It wasn’t a lot, it was maybe just one that was bothering me, but as soon as that started happening we decided to whip out the DEET and shower ourselves.
Blair: The DEET … is it OFF?…
Quintana: It is OFF! It was OFF! “Deep Woods,” actually.
Blair: Well let me ask you this, these mosquitoes that you encountered in Kailua-Kona, were these the actual potential carriers of the dengue virus? I mean you didn’t do an analysis I’m sure, but were you like, “Oh my god, it’s here, I’m going to get dengue.”
Terrell: No, I don’t think we were nearly that dramatic. And most of the reason why we were suited up is because we thought we were going to be following along with vector control people who were going to the places where they suspected there might be dengue mosquitoes that might actually have the virus. So these mosquitoes are the kind that might have been the carriers, but probably would not have had dengue in the area where we were.
Blair: Ok. Cory you’re really well experienced on the Big Island, where were you guys exactly? Where did you go?
Lum: We started in Kailua-Kona at the gymnasium there. From there we waited awhile. The assembled gave a short huddle with nurses, CERTS Civil Defense people. Then we were on our way. Originally the whole premise of the trip was to get actual spraying of actual vector workers doing their thing.
Blair: Yeah, what happened Jess? I heard the spraying didn’t work out.
Terrell: The spraying didn’t work out. The way they’re doing it right now is, after they get a confirmed case they go and spray around that area. The day that we went, they were more focused on outreach and surveying in Kailua-Kona, which is now the hot spot. There have been a couple of cases confirmed I believe in town, and they really want to let people know to take precautions there. Which I think is a little tough because, from what we could see, there’s not much information pretty much anywhere in town about the fact that there’s a dengue outbreak.
Blair: Wait a minute, hang on a second — Kailua-Kona is a major tourist destination. You get all sorts of people going there. Anthony, you’re involved in social media, you know how important it is, weere you surprised there wasn’t more, “Hey tourist, watch out for dengue, buy a can of OFF!, or something like that?”
Quintana: I think we mentioned it a few times to each other that we were surprised that we didn’t see signage of some form. We were right next to a cruse port where there were tons of tourists around us. Cory and I actually stopped to talk to two folks from Australia who had just gotten off the cruse ship. I had asked them if they had known that there was an issue with dengue on the island. They said there was a little notice on the cruse ship pamphlet — on the bottom they said, and that was it.
Blair: Along with, please tip your waiters and servers … well maybe not. Cory is that true? Were these Australian folks a little alarmed about being there in a mosquito area?
Lum: You know we were kind of curious to see how — Australia being a place where dengue is endemic — how do they deal with it? And shoot, the husband and wife team, they just start spraying. They’re really aggressive with even one case or whatever. And we were kind of shocked. We’re in Hawaii expecting our state and city and everyone to just jump on it quickly.
Blair: I would think, Hawaii even more dependent on tourism than Australia, which is a major destination. Jess?
Terrell: Now I will say that in the airport, there were quite a number of posters and signs for their informational outreach right now, which is, “Fight the Bite.” It says right at the top, “Protect yourself, protect Hawaii from dengue fever.” I mean, it says do all of these measures to not get bitten by mosquitoes, but it doesn’t exactly say, “Hey, we’re in the middle of an outbreak.” So it does say, “warning, protect yourself,” but it’s not like, “hey, we’re up to case number 250,” or “watch out, this area is a hotspot right now.”
Blair: And by the way Zika is exploding all over South America. And by the way, Kona is an open-air airport right? It’s open to the elements with the exception of, I think, of the bar.
Anthony, what was it like for you to be down there? First time on the Big Island right?
Quintana: Yeah. I was nervous. Especially when we starting going down. Being in the woods, you know a lot of these houses are deep in the woods, and you don’t know what’s buzzing around your ear or landing on your arm or wherever. I was a little nervous, that was about it.
Blair: How about the residents? How are they handling things? I understand a lot of them a really in a lot of pain. This has really been excruciating for people who have contracted the virus.
Terrell: So we talked to someone who had contracted the virus I think around Thanksgiving, and he said he still doesn’t feel normal. The skin over his entire body had basically peeled four times, and that he wasn’t feeling, like cognitively, his brain just didn’t quite feel … he felt sort of sluggish, as if the neurons weren’t firing as quickly maybe as he would have expected them to. It seems to me that there’s a big range though, between how concerned people are. Some folks that we went to go talk to were walking around wearing long sleeves and pants at home, and setting out traps and doing things that they said they would not normally be doing, but others seem to be taking it kind of in stride.
Blair: How about the authorities, how are they doing? How’s civil defense and the department of health handling the outbreak there? Do you sense that they were on top of things?
Terrell: So there’s been a lot of praise for how well they’re coordinating things.
Blair: I think the CDC gave them generally good props right?
Terrell: Yeah, the CDC said our state really has some critical deficiencies moving forward, but in terms of this outbreak, they’ve been doing an outstanding job. But we did get the sense that people are pretty tired and they’ve been stretched very thin. We walked around with two women who were vector control workers — the only two for that side of the island, and they said that basically since October they’ve been working seven days a week. Now that they’re looking to hire, they’ve started bringing in other workers from the other islands, they’ve started a rotating basis where they’ve gotten a couple days off. You get the sense that people are working very hard, but they’re probably completely exhausted at this point.
Blair: As reporters, as photographers, as social media guys — did you feel like you could go anywhere you want, or were some of the authorities a little resistant about it like, “Wait, wait a minute, what are you doing? Stop asking so many questions,” anything like that?
Lum: Not at all, with the exception of maybe Milolii, which was a lot farther than we planned to go.
Blair: That’s one of the areas that had been most impacted correct?
Terrell: Yeah. Pretty much everyone was very welcoming and let us walk along with them and didn’t really make any areas that we couldn’t go to.
Blair: Anthony do you feel like you got what you needed from the experience?
Quintana: Well, I went in hoping to cover the spraying by vector control, which was my original intention, but throughout the day, with the interviews that Jessica conducted, I think I have a lot more story to tell with video to provide to the story.
Blair: Great so they’ll be more stuff coming out. These stories will begin running the week of the 21st of February. They’ll be a lot more to share.
Going forward, is this going to be with us for a while, dengue? Or is there any chance we could actually see this eradicated given the persistence of this particular carrier?
Terrell: I think you hear yes and no on that. There are a lot of challenges specific to the Big Island in eradicating it. And people come every year and some of them carry it, so I think every year there’s a risk. I think what we hear from residents though, and also from the folks who were doing the outreach yesterday, is that it’s about spreading information and prevention moving forward. So, making sure people are aware of what they need to do to keep the mosquito population down. They’re saying they’re not fighting dengue, they’re fighting mosquitoes.
Blair: Alright, and the Hawaii Department of Health website, probably the best place to go for information.
Terrell: They have a lot of info, yeah.
Blair: OK. Well I want to thank Cory Lum our photographer, Anthony Quintano, our engagement editor, and Jessica Terrell, our reporter, for joining us and coming back without too many bites. You didn’t get bit at all, is that right?
Quintana: We’ll know in four to seven days whether or not we have something.
Blair: Oh there’s actually a period?
Terrell: There is a four- to seven-day period. I think the chance of us catching it is very very low. And honestly it was a little silly of me to go in all prepared to not get bitten, and then the biggest danger that actually happened to me was that I got a terrible sunburn for a day. So you know, shows your priorities I suppose. I paid attention to the bug spray, but not the sun screen.
Blair: There’s probably a workman’s comp issue there. See if you can work it with the boss.
Well thank you guys, and remember, subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher, visit our site at civilbeat.com, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
For another installment of the Pod Squad, as always Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. Take care, aloha, and if you’re on the Big Island on the west side, look out for dengue. Take care.