Ahhh, Hawaii. Let’s just say it’s not known as “The Paradise of the Pacific” for nothing. Home to pristine, palm-lined beaches, lush tropical rainforests, towering volcanoes, ancient lava fields, secret waterfalls, and two national parks, the place pretty much has it all, and it’s a bonafide adventure mecca for modern travelers.
But recently, as the threat of mosquito borne illnesses like the very serious and relatively unknown Zika virus has started to grow in subtropical destinations across the globe, it’s becoming clear that there are things you need to be aware of before you plan your next vacation.
And while Zika has been making most of the headlines as of late, for adventure travelers planning a visit to Hawaii, it’s not the only mosquito-borne illness you need to be aware of.
Dengue fever is another painful and debilitating disease, which infects an estimated 390 million people worldwide each year and which has recently begun to crop up in the Hawaiian Islands.
As of March 2016, public health officials in Hawaii have reported at least 260 human cases of dengue fever since September 2015. While it’s not native to Hawaii, it has been brought in by infected travelers who are bitten by mosquitoes that can then pass on the illness to other humans. Although the risk is low, all the Hawaiian islands are taking precautions.
Stephanie L. Richards, MSEH, PhD, Environmental Health Sciences Program, East Carolina University reports, “Aedes albopictus [the mosquito culprit spreading the disease] is an opportunistic feeder that will blood feed on many different hosts, including humans.”
Unfortunately, this pesky mosquito prefers to feed during early morning and late afternoon—just when travelers are out exploring.
At present, the only effective way to protect yourself against dengue fever is to avoid mosquito bites altogether. So, without further ado, here are five simple ways to dodge biting mosquitoes, according to the experts:
1. Stay vigilant about exposure to mosquitoes during the early morning and late afternoon periods when the Aedes aegypti mosquito’s activity level is highest.
2. Watch for and avoid areas where mosquitos can breed. The Aedes aegypti mosquito looks for small containers or pools filled with clean water to breed and multiply.
3. Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants with insect repellent treatments like permethrin to reduce the chances of being bit. ExOfficio has a great selection of insect repellent clothing.
4. At night, make sure lodging windows have properly installed screens. If not, keep the windows closed and use air conditioning. If you are sleeping in a tent, use proper-fitting mosquito nets.
5. Use mosquito repellent approved by the Environmental Protection Agency on exposed skin. Follow directions about timing for re-application. Travelers should bring their own supply to avoid potential shortages at local shops and retailers.
If you do end up getting bitten by mosquitoes, Richards recommends watching for dengue fever symptoms right away: “High fever and at least two of the following: severe headache, severe eye pain, joint pain, muscle/bone pain, rash, mild bleeding, and low white cell count. After a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, there is a period where that person (if bitten again by another mosquito) is a reservoir and can infect additional mosquitoes.”
In short, traveling to Hawaii can be an adventure of a lifetime. You’ll likely never forget your first time catching a sunset on the North Shore of Oahu or swimming beneath the 170-foot Wailua Falls. But to ensure all your memories are happy ones, it pays to be prepared. By understanding the risks and taking appropriate precautions, hopefully your memories won’t include days spent in bed recovering from a mosquito-borne illness like dengue fever.
Happy (safe) exploring!