State sowing poison
oats to stop typhus
on Maui, Molokai

The effort targets rodents that carry a
bacteria that causes the infectious illness

WAILUKU >> State officials hope to control the number of murine typhus cases in Maui County this year through an aggressive rodent poisoning program that has already started.

Dr. Lorrin Pang, the state health administrator on Maui, said the number of rodents has increased several-fold compared with three months ago.

Rodents carry the bacteria that causes murine typhus, called Rickettsia typhi. Symptoms include fever, rash, and body and headaches. The infection can be treated with antibiotics.

The state reported five confirmed cases of typhus from Jan. 1 through Tuesday: one on Oahu and four on Maui, including residents from Paia, Pukalani, Wailea and Kihei.

Last year, Hawaii officials reported 47 cases of murine typhus, the most since 1944, when the Territory of Hawaii had 186 confirmed cases. Of the 47, 35 were from Maui, six on Molokai, three on Oahu, two on Kauai and one on the Big Island.

Pang said vector control workers are placing poisoned oats in areas of South Maui and Molokai, effectively driving down the number of rodents.

"We might be able to hold down the count a bit," he said.

Pang said that last year, vector workers did not begin to apply poisoned oats in open areas until August, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted the state a waiver.

Pang said workers have been barred from spreading poisoned oats in open areas in West Maui because of the possibility of killing endangered nene geese. He said that instead, traps containing poisoned oats have been laid from Maalaea to Napili.

On average the state has about four to five cases a year on Maui, and the numbers have usually ranged up to 10 cases a year statewide over a 10-year period, state officials said.

"We expect to see cases every year," state health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. "It's not unusual."

People typically contract murine typhus from fleas that first bite an infected rodent and then bite a human.

No one died from murine typhus in Hawaii in 2002, but 18 people, or about 38 percent, were hospitalized.

A Lahaina man had complications as a result of the typhus, including encephalitis and kidney failure, and a Big Island man experienced heart problems.

State Health Department


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