- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Hawaii officials are considering reopening Waipio Valley to the public now that the Big Island’s dengue fever outbreak seems to be subsiding.

Authorities are waiting for test results for a possible new dengue infection. If the results come back negative, the area’s visitor ban will be lifted, Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira told The Hawaii Tribune-Herald (http://bit.ly/1R4fhKd ).

Oliveira said he could know Friday whether it is safe to reopen the valley after limiting access for two months.

Waipio Valley is known for its taro farms, tall waterfalls and lush forests. It is the only public area where access is still restricted because of the outbreak. The last confirmed case of the mosquito-borne dengue fever there was Feb. 1.

The number of confirmed dengue cases on the island has reached 261 since the outbreak started late last year, but the figure appears to be stabilizing.

Residents and tour operators say reopening the valley would be a huge relief, allowing them to lead tours and graze animals there.

The restrictions have been “nerve-wracking,” said Jennifer Hannum, business manager for Naalapa Stables. She said the stables are located in the valley and they had to relocate more than 25 horses to new pastures.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Hannum. “To even think a tiny insect can make this much of an impact, to me, that would have been unthinkable a year ago.”

While the closure has placed additional burdens on valley residents, Ha Ola O Waipio Valley President Jesse Potter said the outbreak is still on some peoples’ minds.

“If it’s in the valley, it is very easy to spread,” he said.

And not everything about the closure was negative — Potter said it made the valley a more private place and some residents “enjoy the peace and quiet.”

An outbreak is considered finished if three incubation periods pass without a confirmed infection, according to Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist. For dengue, an incubation period is one week, but Park said the state is going to wait four weeks just to be safe.

She said people should not let their guard down even if the outbreak is declared over.

“We know sometimes some cases may not come to light,” said Park. “We’re not out of the woods.”

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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