Hawaii’s Unique Public Health Challenges

By Caitlin Saucier, CDC/APHL Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory Training Fellow, State Laboratories Division, Hawaii Department of Health

Hawaii Department of Health

When I first came to Hawaii on a CDC/APHL Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory Training Fellowship grant, I had the common misconception that everyone spends their days surfing, drinking Mai Tais, and lounging on the beach. But while there are certainly many perks to living here, another truth rapidly becomes apparent: Hawaii is not for wimps. Aside from bushwhacking through the jungle, battling four-inch centipedes and stumbling over the pronunciation of street names, public health professionals in Hawaii have a serious responsibility to protect the health of the state and the nation.

Hawaii is a major population center of 1.3 million people situated between Asia, Australia, and the mainland United States. Each year, 7 million visitors come to the islands and over 20 million people pass through Hawaii Airports. Why does this matter from a public health perspective? Millions of people from all over the world passing through one relatively small area potentially creates millions of opportunities for disease transmission to occur. Anyone who has seen the movie Contagion, which focuses on the international response to a deadly virus, has a general understanding of how a disease can make its way around the world in a very short period of time. This isn’t meant to scare you; it’s simply meant to highlight the need for surveillance (careful tracking of diseases) and preparedness (having the resources, personnel, and knowledge to appropriately handle a disease outbreak if it does occur). The State Laboratories Division of the Hawaii Department of Health takes these tasks very seriously.

I’ll be writing a series of blog posts to explain the significance of several infectious diseases and public health issues that are unique to Hawaii. Stay tuned for the exciting world of rat lungworm, drug-resistant gonorrhea, Leptospirosis, diseases of the United States Affiliated Pacific Islands, and shellfish safety, all handled here in the Aloha State.

Read Part 2 on the series: Rat Lungworm

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