Millions of visitors flock to Hawai‘i’s sunny shores and azure blue waters every year, eager to frolic in the sunshine and unwind with our islands’ laid back lifestyle and welcoming culture. One of Hawai‘i’s biggest attractions is its isolation in paradise. With this isolation comes relaxation, unspoiled natural beauty, and a unique tapestry of plant and animal life unique to these tranquil islands. It also means the wildlife here evolved without the need for nasty venom, poisonous thorns, or other natural defense systems (we are looking at you, Australia!). But, being on the edge of the tropics and hosting global travelers from around the world, that doesn’t mean there are not certain health advisories you should keep in mind while visiting.
The Deep Blue Sea
One of the biggest sources of injury for visitors to the state is also our biggest attraction: the ocean. While sharks get the worst press of any of our resident sea life, shark bites are incredibly rare. The majority of injuries are attributed to rough seas, or slips and scrapes on wave-swept rocky coasts. Whenever you enter the ocean, always be aware of the conditions and heed any posted warnings, especially in the rougher winter months on northern beaches. You should never walk along the shoreline where the rocks are wet, as a rogue wave can quickly ruin an otherwise beautiful day. When in doubt, don’t go out.
Please check our Hawaii County Shoreline Access maps and lifeguards for the most up to date information as well as http://www.hawaiibeachsafety.com/big-island. More information is available at the State of Hawai`i, Department of Land and Natural Resources State Parks website; you can also call (808) 974-6200.
Given its location in the deep waters of the Pacific, Hawai‘i is also potentially in harm’s way for a tsunami. These giant waves originate when earthquakes occur, and a few have hit the islands in the past (Hilo was devastated by one in 1946). An oceanwide network of sensors is tied to an early warning system, and the state has an array of alarms in place to alert the population in the event of a potential wave (https://www.hawaii247.com/tsunami-evacuation-centers-for-the-big-island/).
Recent Health Advisories
Hawai‘i has had a handful of health advisories in the past 10 years, but there are currently none in effect and no real causes for concern.
The most recent serious health scare involved everyone’s least favorite pest. Mosquitoes, those wonderful vectors for disease, were introduced to the islands in 1826 (everyone widely agrees this was a terrible thing). Zika has not been found in Hawai‘i and is not currently a concern, but the island does have two species of mosquito capable of transmitting dengue fever. The fever is caused by a virus not normally found in Hawai‘i, though it occasionally arrives in the bloodstream of infected travelers. Mosquitoes can then potentially spread it to other persons. Outbreaks in 2011 and 2015 affected approximately 200 people but were quickly isolated, and after April of 2016 there have been no new cases. Your best defense against dengue and mosquitoes in general is through insect repellant and long sleeves and pants whenever you are in a high mosquito area.
Rat or Rodent Lungworm Disease
In 2017 there was a rare outbreak of 11 cases of Rat Lungworm disease on Maui and the Big Island (previously, the annual average was a single case per year). Normally found in Asia and the South Pacific, this disease is easily prevented through proper washing and storage of food. It is caused by a parasitic worm that lives in rats, snails, and slugs and it is highly unusual for it to pass to humans. When it does, it is usually through eating undercooked slugs and snails or ingesting raw produce that had not been properly washed and contained an infected animal. It is important to note that diners in restaurants have nothing to worry about, as state regulations ensure proper food handling, which is more than adequate to prevent infection. The Department of Health emphasizes that diligent cleaning and storage of your own produce will minimize any risk. The disease is usually resolved without treatment.
One other final advisory of note: In January of 2018 Hawai‘i was the victim of a false alarm for a nuclear missile attack. While the exact nuclear capabilities of the rogue state of North Korea are not known, it is believed that Honolulu is within range of a potential missile attack. Given the military presence in the islands, it is reasonable to think Honolulu might be a priority target, but the chances of this, thankfully, are slim. Since the false alarm, the state is reconsidering its alert systems which currently involve sirens, announcements, and SMS to all cellular phones in the state (or with a local area code).
Hawai‘i is a tropical paradise for many, and for good reason. Visiting here is a chance to enjoy nature’s beauty, with all the amenities of a modern tourist destination. While it always pays to be careful, you can leave your cares behind when you pack for your trip. Just remember to bring some common sense and to keep an ear out for any potential health concerns, and you will feel all your worries slipping away as you relax beneath the palms in the pleasant trade winds. We will see you soon!