FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Fourth-year University of Hawaii medical students Julie Iinuma, left, and Grace Liu drew blood for a hepatitis test yesterday at the homeless shelter in Kakaako as part of yearlong campaign to help prevent spread of hepatitis.
Seminar helps fight infectious disease
Free safety kits will hopefully help the homeless prevent spreading hepatitis
Silver Jones carries a tiny bottle of Clorox bleach and water with her to keep clean and ward off diseases every night at the Kakaako homeless shelter.
"I make sure I'm clean here," said Jones, a former nurse's aide for eight years, "especially when I heard someone here had hepatitis."
Homeless at the Kakaako shelter learned ways yesterday to keep infectious diseases from spreading.
A health seminar and free screenings for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, Hansen's disease and staph infection helped the homeless understand the importance of good hygiene.
They also received safety kits with razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, nail files, Band-Aids and alcohol wipes. Sharing razors, washcloths or other items that may have blood on them contribute to the transfer of hepatitis, said Dr. Wilfred Alik of the Kaiser Permanente Kahuku Clinic.
The majority of those staying at the state-run shelter come from Micronesia, where the rate of hepatitis B infection is 12 percent to 15 percent, Alik said.
"That number is really an underestimation since not a lot of them have access to medical facilities, so they're not documented," Alik said. "There are more out there."
Micronesians, Marshallese and Palauans enter the United States under the Compact of Free Association agreement, which does not require them to go through health screenings, said Barbara Tom of the Department of Health.
"I'm going to always keep the safety kit under my baby's stroller," said 17-year-old Natisha Taualai, standing in line to get pre-hepatitis vaccinations for herself and her 3-month-old daughter.
About 90 percent of the infants in Micronesia develop chronic infections after years of having hepatitis B and not knowing it, Alik said. He also noted that the disease usually transfers from mother to child.
"I think another major problem there is that the midwives, or whoever helps with the birth, doesn't give proper prenatal care," he said. "The baby misses out and suffers."
Taualai and her daughter Natalie received a free T-shirt and a bag of toys after going to two screenings. A reward system motivated those at the shelter to get tested at yesterday's clinic.
Cultural groups, including a Chuuk church choir, entertained the packed warehouse as well.
"We wanted them to know we are interested in who they are," said Nova Lei Gonzales, special-projects director for the "Help Save a Life - Safety Kits for the Homeless/Houseless Campaign."
Gonzales, who also sang at the clinic, showed off a certificate in which Gov. Linda Lingle proclaimed yesterday "Save A Life -- Safety Kit Day" for the state.
"This is just the beginning of our journey," said executive director Ken Akinaka of the Hepatitis Prevention, Education, Treatment and Support Network of Hawaii, which raised money to be used for the yearlong project. "We want to send these kits to other islands."