Each year, Hawaii welcomes millions of visitors from around the world. Like any destination, health risks are preventable with awareness and a few precautions. Good information is the key to a safe and healthy stay in the islands, so keep the following tips in mind during your travel.
Eating Safe, Eating Healthy
When visiting a farmer’s market, roadside produce stand, local farm or home garden, make sure to thoroughly rinse all fruits and vegetables under clean, running water, especially leafy green produce. Check single leaves of leafy vegetables for tiny slugs and snails, which can carry parasites that cause rat lungworm disease, a severe form of meningitis. If you plan to eat snails, freshwater prawns, crabs, or frogs, boil them for at least 3-5 minutes to kill any parasites.
Respect the Ocean – Know Before You Go
Check with lifeguards for current conditions and obey all posted warning signs. Hawaii’s oceans have high surf and strong riptides that are hazardous even for experienced swimmers. Knowing your limits and respecting the ocean could save your life. Respect means never turning your back on the ocean since sudden large waves can sweep you off the beach and into deep water with no warning.
Even small waves can cause severe spinal injuries when breaking onto the shore. Stay out of the shore break where waves break abruptly in shallow water. Always “duck dive” under oncoming or crashing waves with arms held in front of your head to avoid injury and allow the wave to roll over you.
Hawaii is prone to invasions of box jellyfish, which can deliver a painful sting. Stay out of the water when warning signs are posted. Seek immediate medical attention if you’ve been stung and have difficulty breathing or problems with vision, cramps, or heart palpitations.
For current ocean and beach conditions, go to: HawaiiBeachSafety.com.
Protect Yourself From the Sun
Enjoy Hawaii’s weather, but don’t let a sunburn ruin your vacation. The sun’s ultra violet (UV) rays are intense because Hawaii is close to the equator. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30—even on cloudy days. The sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so be generous when applying sunscreen and make sure to include hard-to-reach areas like your back and feet, which can burn if left unprotected.
Warmth and humidity cause you to perspire, so apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you get wet. Re-apply every two hours and every time you go in the water. Do the same for other physical activities like walking or hiking. If you go swimming at the beach, apply reef-safe waterproof or water-resistant sunscreen.
For more information on protecting yourself from overexposure to the sun, go to: CDC’s Sun Safety page.
Be Akamai and Prevent Infection
Don’t go swimming after heavy rains. Bacteria levels may be higher than normal due to increased runoff. If you do choose to go swimming, cover any open cuts or wounds and practice good hygiene by thoroughly rinsing off afterwards.
Be akamai (smart) when caring for cuts and wounds. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed to prevent infections from dirt and bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus (staph). If you have an open wound, stay out of freshwater streams, areas where freshwater and seawater mix (brackish water), waterfalls, or other waters under an advisory on exposure to bacterial diseases which may include:
- Group A streptococcal infections (such as strep throat, impetigo, septicemia and necrotizing fasciitis)
These bacteria can also enter through the mouth, eyes, or ears and cause a serious infection, especially in people with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions.
Respect and Appreciate Your Hike
Hawaii is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and adventurous hiking trails. Use only maintained sanctioned trails, which can be found here: HawaiiTrails.org.
Follow these tips for your safety:
- Stay on marked trails.
- Read warning signs.
- Bring plenty of water.
- Give yourself enough time to return with daylight.
- Wear shoes or boots that have good traction.
- Apply insect repellent and respect the areas you hike in.
Be aware of your surroundings on and around the trail. Report any suspicious behavior to the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ (DLNR) Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement at (808) 643-DLNR (3567). If you or a member of your party is in need of emergency help, call 9-1-1.
Heed flash flood and severe weather warnings. In rainy weather, be alert for the possibility of a flash flood, which can happen quickly and with little to no notice. Be aware of streams, gulches, drainage channels and other areas where flash floods can occur with or without typical warnings like rain clouds or heavy rain.
For more information on hiking safety view DLNR’s Hiking Safely in Hawaii.
Check the Air for Volcanic Emissions or Vog
Vog, or “volcanic fog,” is the hazy air pollution caused by volcanic emissions from Kilauea volcano on Hawaii Island. Vog concentrations depend on the amount of volcanic emissions, distance from the volcano’s vents and the wind. The primary air pollutants in vog are sulfur dioxide (SO2) and fine particles (PM 2.5). People at greater risk for health symptoms include those with:
- Emphysema or other respiratory conditions
- Cardiovascular disease or
- Older adults, infants, children and expectant mothers
Symptoms may include eye, nose, throat or skin irritation, cough, shortness of breath and/or chest tightness, headache and increased susceptibility to respiratory ailments.
If you have a pre-existing respiratory condition, keep your medication available and use as prescribed. To protect yourself from vog, be aware of wind conditions that may carry vog to your area, do not smoke, stay hydrated, limit strenuous activities, stay indoors, and/or use an indoor air purifier.
Fight the Bite
Protect yourself from mosquitoes by applying insect repellent when you go out. Use repellents containing DEET and pay special attention to using them as directed, especially when using them on children. Mosquitoes can spread viruses such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, which travelers sometimes bring to Hawaii. These diseases are not native to our state, so we need to work together to Fight the Bite and keep them from reaching the islands.
Avoid hiking at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Cover as much of your skin as possible by wearing light-colored, long-sleeve clothing and pants. Stay away from bodies of stagnant water, including puddles and marshes where mosquitoes breed.
Spread Aloha Not Germs
Help prevent the spread of viruses that cause flu, mumps and other infectious diseases by practicing good health etiquette. Use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based rub. Get a flu shot annually and update your vaccinations.
Flu season is year-round in Hawaii because of the tropical climate and high volume of visitors from around the world.
Current Hazards and Health Emergencies
It is important to be aware of any natural and human-caused hazards as well as health emergencies and threats. Plan your vacation accordingly and take proper precautions before departing.
For information on current outbreaks or infectious disease concerns in Hawaii go to:
Current Issues & Advisories.
More information about natural disasters and advisories is available from our Office of Public Health Preparedness.
Tips on how to prepare for a safe trip to Hawaii can be found at Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Thank you for visiting Hawaii
Take basic precautions and practice healthy habits to help protect yourself and ensure safe and enjoyable travel in Hawaii.