Typhus reaches
8 in state

2 new cases are on Maui;
officials don’t regard it
as an epidemic

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> Two new confirmed cases of rodent-borne typhus have surfaced on the Valley Isle, both believed to have been contracted in South Maui, state health officials said.

That brings the statewide total to eight cases -- seven on Maui and one on Kauai.

"We don't consider it an epidemic at this time," said Janice Okubo, state Health Department spokeswoman.

Okubo said the numbers were still within the range of one to 10 murine typhus cases occurring annually in the last decade and may have been skewed a bit because of more surveillance and public awareness. "Murine" means it is carried by mice and rats.

In the Kihei residential areas, there has been a notable increase of field mice recently and an increase of complaints about mice. Health officials plan to step up efforts to combat the rodents, although they cannot conclude that the burgeoning mice population is a direct reason for the recent typhus cases.

The state Department of Health will send a crew of 10 to 12 people from Maui's Emergency Environmental Work Force to set up and check hundreds of mouse bait traps in Kihei, Okubo said. The crew's normal duties consist of dengue fever and miconia control.

Okubo said the traps will be baited with zinc phosphate, a rodent poison. In addition to using zinc-baited oats in the box traps, health officials plan to spread the oats in pastures and grazing lots where the mice breed.

The department is seeking approvals from the state agriculture department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to spread the poison in open fields and on a larger scale, Okubo said.

Okubo said yesterday the two new cases included a Kihei woman in her 30s and a Kula man in his 40s who health officials believe contracted the illness while in Kihei.

The Kula man was hospitalized but did not have complications from the illness, she said.

Besides the Kula man, two others have been hospitalized and later released, including a Kihei woman who suffered from dehydration and a Lahaina man who was treated for encephalitis and kidney failure.

The Lahaina man has been released from Tripler Army Medical Center and transferred to a medical facility on the mainland for rehabilitation.

Okubo said all eight patients statewide, including the two new ones, contracted the disease sometime from March to July.

All of those infected have been adults, with the oldest 57.

Of the seven confirmed cases reported on Maui, six of them have occurred in Kihei, where there have been reports of a large number of mice traveling from brush land in search of food.

One case occurred in southern Lahaina, where a friend of the victim had seen rats outside the house.

Typhus is caused by a bacterialike organism called Rickettsia typhi, usually transmitted when a flea bites an infected rodent and then a human being.

A person who contracts the illness has flulike symptoms, including fever, headaches, body aches and rash.

There have been no reports of deaths, and the illness can be treated with antibiotics, such as doxycycline, officials said.

The two new Maui cases occurred in June. Other Maui cases include one in Lahaina in June and four in Kihei -- two in March, one in April and one in May.

The Kauai case occurred in May.

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