Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Isle typhus cases
hit 60-year high

2 new confirmed cases on Maui
bring the year's total to 25

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The number of murine typhus cases around the state climbed to 25 -- the most in one year in nearly 60 years -- with two cases confirmed yesterday.

But the rate of typhus cases has slowed with fewer illnesses in the last two months, according to state health officials.

Murine typhus, a bacterial infection, is carried by fleas on a rodent.

State health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the number of rodents has decreased in areas where there once was a high population. Okubo said officials are continuing to test people who think they might have contracted typhus, and expect to find more cases.

The latest confirmed cases were a woman in her 40s in Kihei who contracted the illness Sept. 13 and a Lahaina woman in her 60s who became ill Sept. 2. The first cases were reported in Kihei in March, and the disease peaked in July and August with eight cases each month.

Health officials noted that cases of murine typhus occur annually in Hawaii, but this year, the numbers have been higher than usual, partially because of an increase in the rodent population and heightened awareness and testing.

The previous statewide high in the last decade was 10.

Typhus symptoms include fever, rash, body ache, nausea and vomiting, and can be treated with antibiotics.

Health officials note that murine typhus is a milder form of typhus and is rarely fatal. But at least seven people have been hospitalized, including a Lahaina man who suffered severe complications, including kidney failure and swelling in the brain.

The 25 murine typhus cases include one on Oahu, two on Kauai, one on Molokai and 21 on Maui.

Of the Maui cases there were nine in Kihei, four in Kula, three in Lahaina, two each in Makawao and Kahului, and one in Wailuku.

Okubo said the 25 confirmed cases are the most since 1944 during World War II, when the territory of Hawaii had 186 cases. She said the use of the pesticide DDT did much to rid Hawaii of the typhus problem back then.

DDT is now banned as a pesticide. This year, state health officials used several methods to battle the rodents, including traps and poisoned oats.

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