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Lawmakers urge state to hire more vector control workers

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    This file photo shows the mosquito that transmits dengue fever.

HILO » Big Island lawmakers are calling for the state to put more money into controlling populations of animals and insects that spread disease.

Democratic Sen. Josh Green of Kona is among other legislators pushing a bill that would add four new officers to the state Department of Health Vector Control Branch. The officers would be charged with monitoring populations of disease-spreading animals and coordinating an adequate response to potential threats, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

Green said the island’s recent outbreak of the mosquito-borne dengue fever highlights the need for increased vector control. He said the state’s budget-cutting efforts have suppressed the Vector Control Branch’s influence, resulting in what was initially a slow response to the outbreak.

“In light of our response to dengue on the Big Island, we absolutely need more support for vector control,” he said Tuesday. “We can’t afford another outbreak of dengue.”

Democratic Rep. Mark Nakashima of Hamakua, who introduced the House bill, said funding for the additional officers will help increase vector control efforts as well as providing training for those positions.

“Even those who are in the positions we have now are not properly trained in all cases to do the job they were hired to do,” he said. “One of the things I’ve told the Department of Health, as well as other state offices, is that . there needs to be some institutional memory and training, so that when (an outbreak) does happen again — and it will happen — it’s not the first time all over again.”

Nakashima said an exact dollar figure to increase vector control efforts has not yet been included in the legislation. Green, however, said he is asking for $500,000 to be appropriated immediately to help with the ongoing dengue fever outbreak.

The state Department of Health reported Wednesday that the total number of dengue fever cases on the Big Island had hit 241.

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