CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Department of Health has posted signs at many popular freshwater swimming sites, trails and state and county parks, including this one near Manoa Stream.
State officials do not see a risk for leptospirosis at Moanalua Gardens
I've been concerned that a leptospirosis warning sign has not been posted along the stream fronting the Moanalua Gardens Missionary Church for years. I happened to attend the Prince Lot Festival on July 19, and the same stream goes along Moanalua Gardens. The water was stagnant and turbid. It seems the only time the water flows is after heavy rains, otherwise the stream is literally dry, except for small pools of water. Why aren't signs posted?
How to avoid getting leptospirosis:
» Avoid swimming, wading, hiking or playing in freshwater streams or waterfalls, especially when you have cuts or abrasions. Don't dive or put your head underwater if you swim in freshwater streams or waterfalls.
» Protect yourself with gloves, boots, long sleeves, heavy pants or waders and goggles when you are working in moist soil or water, farming or gardening; clearing vegetation; caring for pets and livestock; fishing and prawning; or hunting and butchering animals.
» Treat stream water and catchment water by vigorous boiling for one minute or chemical treatment before drinking because filters may not work.
» Control rodents and wildlife around your home; do not allow them to get to food and garbage. Keep water catchment areas free from branches and prevent access by animals.
» Vaccinate pets and farm animals for Leptospirosis.
» Drain standing water.
» Call the Disease Outbreak Control Division, 586-4586, for more information.
Source: Hawaii Department of Health Disease Outbreak Control Division
Because the stream apparently is not used for recreational activities, and from your description of conditions, state health officials do not believe the stream poses a leptospirosis risk to park users.
According to Department of Health records, there have not been any cases of leptospirosis linked to exposure at Moanalua Stream, which flows through Moanalua Gardens, said spokeswoman Janice Okubo.
There never has been a leptospirosis warning sign posted there, according to Okubo.
The department has posted warning signs at many popular freshwater swimming sites, trails, and state and county parks, including sites where known cases of leptospirosis have occurred, such as Maunawili Falls and trail and Kapena Falls on Oahu, and Waipio Valley on the Big Island.
In 2000 the department said about 400 signs were posted statewide.
"Unfortunately, there are individuals who like to deface the signs or take these signs home as souvenirs," Okubo said.
Several agencies have been collaborating on developing a new warning sign. It's now in the final stages of approval, but we're told it's not yet available for preview.
"Once approved, the defaced, missing and old signs will be replaced with the new, improved version," Okubo said.
She explained that leptospirosis is caused by bacteria excreted in the urine of certain animals, particularly rats and pigs. If the animals live near freshwater streams or ponds, the bacteria can make their way into the water. They also can survive in moist soil and mud as well as get into catchment systems.
Got the bug
Leptospirosis cases in Hawaii:
Source: State Department of Health Disease Investigation Branch
Humans can contract leptospirosis by swimming in or jumping/diving into bodies of water that contain the bacteria, which then can enter the body through the mouth, nose, eyes or an open wound.
Symptoms resemble the flu and usually occur in seven to 14 days but can show up any time between two and 30 days.
"Over the last five years, there have been on average less than seven cases of leptospirosis reported per year on the island of Oahu," Okubo said.
Since 2002 a total of 195 cases have been reported statewide -- 107 on the Big Island, 49 on Oahu, 38 on Kauai and one on Maui. (See accompanying chart of reported leptospirosis cases, by island, from 2002 through 2008.)
Of those cases, two proved fatal.
The case of 22-year-old college student Simon Hultman, who died in 2004 after contracting the disease in Waipio Valley, has been widely reported.
Not reported -- at least in the news media, as far as we could find -- was the death of a visitor following a visit to Hawaii in 2002.
The Health Department said it could not provide details because of "confidentiality issues," but did say the tourist had an "exposure history of swimming at Kapena Falls."
The victim, whose identity was not released, developed symptoms of leptospirosis about 14 days later, after returning to the mainland.
The victim was admitted to a hospital, treated with antibiotics five days after the onset of symptoms but died five days after being hospitalized.
Got a question or complaint?
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