Typhus cases decline
despite increase in mice
With brushland drying out after a wet winter, state health officials are seeing the mice population increase in Leeward Oahu.
>> Symptoms: Fever, rash, and body and headaches.
>> Cause: A bacterial-like infection called Rickettsia typhi, transmitted by a rodent flea.
>> Treatment: Antibiotics such as doxycycline.
>> Control: Clear garbage and keep food in rodent-proof containers. Treat outside of house with flea spray before setting rodent traps. Check spray label for warnings about potential dangers to children and other animals.
But the number of murine typhus cases are down from recent years, state health spokeswoman Darcie Yukimura said.
Yukimura said as of yesterday, there were 12 confirmed cases of rodent-borne typhus in Hawaii this year, including six on Oahu, four on Maui, and two on the Big Island.
There were 47 cases in Hawaii in 2002, the highest since 1947, and 38 cases in 2003, the state said.
Murine typhus typically occurs after a flea bites an infected rodent, then bites a human being. The flea feces, carrying the bacteria Rickettsia typhi, enters through the bite in the skin.
The infection includes symptoms such as fever, rash, body aches and headaches, and can be treated with antibiotics.
But it has been known to sometimes cause severe complications, such as encephalitis and kidney failure, as in the case of a Lahaina photographer in 2002 who later died in California.
Yukimura said the department believed the decrease in the number of typhus cases was due to an increasing awareness of murine typhus and elimination of mice populations.
Of the six cases on Oahu this year, one who was hospitalized and later released with very mild symptoms, Yukimura said. There were no deaths.
State vector control supervisor George Kitaguchi said mice are being seen more in the Makakilo, Waianae and Makaha areas. He said so far, vector control workers have been monitoring the number by trapping the mice but that if the numbers continue to increase, they may have to resort to poisoning.
On Maui, vector control workers are using poison to control mice on the leeward side of Haleakala, he said. State officials are using poisoned oats in open fields away from homes.
Kitaguchi said workers have had to use caution in applying the poison because they don't want to hurt endangered species, such as the nene goose.
Kitaguchi said there have also been reports of mice at Waikoloa on the Big Island.
Yukimura said to keep mice away, residents should make sure spaces are free of clutter, and keep food off the ground and put away.
She said residents should also make sure to clean pet bowls and put traps out if they see rats and mice.
"It would be a good time to be more vigilant about mice and rodents," she said.
While the vast majority recover from murine typhus, 49-year-old Lahaina photographer Steve Pysz contracted murine typhus in 2002 and died from complications in California the next year.