The Leading Causes of Death in Hawaii

What's Killing Us? You’ve got to go somehow. Here are the things you should really worry about.


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No. 5 Diabetes

“Diabetes has always been an issue in Hawaii. It’s been steadily increasing over the years,” says Valerie Ah Cook, the program coordinator of the Hawaii Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. The disease killed 283 people in the Islands in 2008, but almost a 100,000 people have diabetes in Hawaii, or 8.3 percent of the state’s population. An additional 26,000 are estimated to be undiagnosed, and, therefore, untreated. The Hawaii Diabetes Prevention and Control Program is run by the state Department of Health program, and receives federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All states have a similar program. Ah Cook says, “Our strengths are surveillance and disease management.” The program provides support and consultation services for the staffs of community health centers. “The [centers] work for the uninsured and the underinsured populations, who are at greater risk,” she says. The biggest risk factors for diabetes? Obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In addition to proper diet and exercise, Ah Cook also recommends at-risk people have their blood-sugar levels checked twice a year.

Fighting Diabetes

This month, the National Kidney Foundation is hosting the third annual “Kidney Disease in the Pacific: Meeting the Challenge” conference in Honolulu, bringing the region’s healthcare professionals, from doctors to dieticians, together for the latest information on dialysis and care of kidney disease patients. Unusual fundraiser: Kidney cars. Donate your old car by calling 596-7575, kidneyhi.org.

Medical Firsts

  • 1839: Hawaii’s first mass immunization effort, administering a smallpox vaccine to 8,000 to 10,000 Native Hawaiians.
  • 1847: Hawaii’s first three pharmacies open.
  • 1853: A smallpox epidemic kills half the population of Oahu.
  • 1870: Dr. Gerrit P. Judd opens Hawaii’s first medical school. It accepts 10 students, with a Native Hawaiians-only admissions policy.
  • 1916: First ambulance in Honolulu deployed by the Honolulu Police Department.
  • 1944: Penicillin first made available for civilian use in Hawaii.

 

No. 6 Influenza

Think the flu is no big deal? Think again; influenza causes the sixth highest number of deaths in the state. The virus claimed the lives of 266 people, the majority of them elderly, in 2008. Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist, works with the Department of Health’s Hawaii Influenza Surveillance Program to identify influenza and pneumonia trends in the state. “We don’t know of all the flu cases,” she says, “because not all doctors test [for influenza] and not everyone goes to the doctor.” The CDC funds the surveillance program—every state has one. Between 12 and 18 Hawaii physicians statewide send weekly reports indicating how many of their patients had acute respiratory symptoms and submit specimen tests. Schools, hospitals and commercial laboratories also send reports to the DOH. “It helps us get a better handle on what comes to Hawaii. Diseases don’t start here,” says Park, adding that the biggest flu preventatives are still the time-tested ones: Wash your hands and cover your face when you cough or sneeze.

Free Flu Shots

HMSA holds free flu shot clinics, and local pharmacies also offer free or low- cost flu shots.

Safety in Numbers

The state DOH provides free, voluntary flu shots to children through its Stop Flu at School program. The program covers both public and private schools statewide. Students in kindergarten through the eighth grade can receive flu shots on their campuses starting every October. Last year, more than 70,000 students were vaccinated. This benefits adults, too, through “herd immunity,” and the Influenza Surveillance Program has shown that flu vaccinations are having a positive impact.

10,000

Number of fatalities in 1848 and early 1849 from measles, whooping cough, dysentery and influenza epidemics in Hawaii. This represented one-tenth of the population, the equivalent of losing 130,000 Islanders in a single year in 2011.

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