Hawaii visitors and locals may not all be environmentally inclined, but we can easily come together when it comes to mosquitos and those carrying diseases, including malaria. Hawaii has its own unique problem that is being addressed through genetically modified mosquitoes; Florida and Texas, on the other hand, are both encountering some cases of locally acquired human malaria. These are the first documented cases in the United States of mosquito-transmitted malaria in two decades.
The CDC said that it is in the process of active surveillance of that situation to better evaluate it. That notwithstanding, the present risk of contracting malaria in the US is still very low, according to the CDC. Five patients in those two states are currently being treated while surveillance continues.
Hawaii’s mosquito problems are very different.
The Hawaii State Department of Health says only that “Mosquitoes are a known potential vector for disease in Hawaii even as malaria is not a problem since the Anopheles mosquito is not found here. However, the state says that “persons who were infected overseas have been diagnosed with malaria after arrival in Hawaii.
The endemic mosquito species to the islands can transmit diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, but they do not naturally carry such diseases. To transmit an infection, a mosquito first needs to bite an infected person. Our tropical climate and consistent flux of tourists make mosquito control a year-round task.”
Hawaii has surveillance traps and researches mosquitoes.
Hawaii DOH says that it takes “Physical and mechanical measures to control the mosquito population. We monitor and document mosquitoes, treat certain areas with insecticide, and will respond to any mosquito-related disease outbreak. We set up traps near seaports and airports and collect more than 20,000 mosquitoes in a year. These traps mimic a mosquito breeding area and capture both adult and immature mosquitoes.”
Mosquito birth control and avian malaria in Hawaii.
The state DLNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife plan to perform wide-scale mosquito suppression to halt the spread of avian malaria on Kauai. Comments to the agencies are possible through July 24 on the topic. The plan is intended to help arrest the decimation of native birds due to malaria. Male mosquitoes that carry a naturally-occurring bacteria (Wolbachia) to be released into forests to mate with female mosquitoes, which then lay eggs that do not hatch.
Maui mosquito programs are underway.
Maui is in the midst of a pilot program to test the mosquito birth control methodology further. The state DLNR approved an environmental assessment earlier this year, leading to smaller-scale pilot projects. The releases of the Wolbachia-enabled mosquitoes are now in process in East Maui.
Hawaii’s birds are rapidly becoming extinct as a result of mosquitoes. The birds have migrated to higher elevations. But since climate change has resulted in mosquitoes now living at those same higher elevations, that alone is not a deterrent. At present, ten of sixteen native honeycreepers have already been declared extinct.
In a press release from Fish and Wildlife, they said, “Wolbachia is a bacterium that occurs naturally in 65% of insects that does not employ genetic engineering and does not involve or result in either mosquitoes or bacteria being genetically modified organisms.”
Other countries and U.S. states have used Wolbachia to suppress mosquito populations, including Australia, Mexico, Thailand, French Polynesia, California, and more.
CDC has advised doctors nationwide to consider the possibility of malaria.
This would be for any person who has unexplained symptoms consistent with the disease, without regard to travel internationally, especially if they have visited either Florida or Texas.
Infection by the microscopic Plasmodium organism can result in chills, fever, sweats, tiredness, vomiting, and headaches. In really bad cases, it can even cause jaundice, seizures, coma, or death. It is considered an emergency and is treated with drugs. In places where mosquito-born illness is prevalent, bug repellent and covering skin with clothes protect against mosquito bites to a large degree.
Malaria can generally only be contracted directly from a mosquito and is not considered contagious. Human-to-human transmission is extremely rare but has sometimes been passed through transfusion, organ transplantation, shared needles, or from mother to child. The insects, however, catch it from those infected people they bite, perpetuating the cycle.
While malaria is common in Africa, Asia, and Central/South America, it has been virtually unheard of in the US for the last 20 years. The risk of malaria is higher in areas where the mosquitos can live through most of the year, as is the case here in Hawaii. Thankfully, the Anopheles mosquito, which is necessary for its active transmission of malaria, has not been found in Hawaii.