Federal funding to fight infectious diseases in Hawaii

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The Hawaii Department of Health is tasked with identifying, tracking and treating diseases from anthrax to the Zika virus and everything in between. The infectious disease control program is vital to our survival. Thanks to the federal government it just got a much needed shot in the arm to keep it going.

Rat lungworm disease, legionnaires disease, mumps and even influenza. They are all infectious diseases recently diagnosed in Hawaii.

According to Bruce Anderson the Department of Health Director, there are many more.

“We have hundreds of diseases, which impact Hawaii, but also that can be transmitted to other states. So the federal government’s interest in controlling disease here is helpful in controlling the spread of diseases to other places,” Anderson said.

The U.S. Department of Health awarded nearly $2.5 million to Hawaii’s infectious disease control program.

“Maintaining accurate surveillance of diseases is critical we need to know what’s happening out there. I need to be able to identify diseases early in the process and we need to be able to respond appropriately before they become big problems,” Anderson said.

The grant also pays for doctors, epidemiologists and equipment. 

“And that is expensive. We couldn’t do this without the federal government.”

Hawaii’s location in the middle of the Pacific and the millions of visitors who flock here from across the globe are part of the reason we have so many diseases. 

“Part of our challenge is to try to get a better handle on how many illnesses are out there and of course how we can prevent those illnesses. Out reach and education is always critical,” explained Anderson.

Influenza is considered common, but it’s also one of the largest killers in the islands. According to the Center for Disease Control,  200 people have died from influenza in Hawaii so far this year.

“Identifying when we have more cases getting vaccine out to the community is key to protecting our public health,” Anderson said.

There are hundreds of infectious diseases and I’m told many of them are getting stronger.

“The heavy use of antibiotics has resulted in the proliferation of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. And these are harder and harder to treat every year,” Anderson said.

Fighting those antimicrobial resistant bacteria is another key focus of the Department of Health.

The grant is part of the Centers for Disease Control award, which helps states prepare for and respond to public health threats by getting their labs tech-ready, updating their health information systems and improving workforce readiness. 

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