Hawaii County

Big Island pond sign
to warn of danger

A bacteria infection killed
a man and a woman was bitten
by an eel in the water

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Following one death and two other medical problems, Hawaii County will put up a sign at a seaside county park warning people about bacteria and eels, county parks Director Pat Engelhard said.

The decision yesterday was in response to the death of one man last year and the illness of another this year from the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus in the warm-water pond at Ahalanui Park on the Puna coast south of Hilo.

Eleanor Weber, 72, of Carmel, Calif., said she has been trying to get the county to put up a warning sign since the Feb. 26, 2001, death of her husband from vibrio after swimming in the pond.

The warning includes eels because a woman was also recently bitten, apparently by an eel, while swimming in the pond at 2 a.m.

The county's decision to post the sign follows publicity generated by a California newspaper's recent article on Weber and her husband, Herbert Wiesenfeld, 72, she said.

During their visit to the Hawaii last year, Wiesenfeld, his legs marked by scabs from psoriasis, went into the pond for no more than 20 minutes, Weber said.

He felt tiny fish nipping at his legs, and when he came out of the water, this legs were dripping with blood, she said.

It is believed the fish bites allowed the bacteria to enter his bloodstream.

The next day he was sick, and despite treatment at Hilo Hospital, two days later he died, she said.

A test confirming vibrio in his blood was not ready for evaluation until after his death, she said.

Weber said she wanted to sue the county for wrongful death -- not for money, but to get a warning sign posted. Nine local attorneys declined to take the case.

After a series of letters from her California attorney, then-state Health Director Bruce Anderson advised Mayor Harry Kim in a Nov. 27 letter to post a sign "as a matter of caution."

Vibrio occurs in warm, shallow coastal waters "throughout most of the world," Anderson wrote. It is a concern only when a person has a "pre-existing disease with open wounds," he wrote.

Parks Director Engelhard said a sign also will warn about eels hiding in rocks in the 90- to 97-degree pond water. The pond is "loaded" with them, she said.

But from July 2001 to June of this year, 148,842 people visited the pond, and the only person bitten was the woman swimming at 2 a.m., when the park is closed, she said.

County of Hawaii

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