HONOLULU -- Federal health officials confirmed that four people on Maui contracted dengue fever over the summer, the first cases of the mosquito-borne disease in Hawaii in more than 50 years, state officials said.
Dengue fever is rarely fatal, and the four people confirmed to have had it have recovered.
Still, state health officials are urging people in East Maui, a sparsely populated and largely rainforested region, to take precautions and eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which transmit the tropical disease.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnoses of four cases in Hana and Nahiku on Friday, said Dr. Bruce Anderson, the state health department's director.
At least 20 more suspected cases are awaiting confirmation from the CDC, said Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the health department.
"Dengue can be a very serious problem in areas where it hasn't appeared recently," Anderson said. "Typically epidemics tend to be widespread and difficult to control."
Symptoms of dengue fever include fever, headache and rashes on the palms and feet. The more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever has a fatality rate of 5 percent, according to the CDC. There is no vaccine or specific treatment.
The state had recorded 21 cases of dengue fever this year, but all contracted the disease elsewhere before coming to Hawaii, Anderson said.
He said Tahiti and several other South Pacific islands are having serious problems with dengue. Several cases were reported in American Samoa in July, and an outbreak of 400 cases was reported in Samoa in June.
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