Isle doctors say ‘superbug’ flourishes in Hawaii climate
A new national study indicating a high number of deaths from a drug-resistant staph infection did not include Hawaii but local doctors and researchers are all too familiar with the so-called "superbug."
Dr. Alan Tice, a physician and University of Hawaii professor, said Hawaii has twice the national average of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections in part due to the islands' warm and wet environment. "Bugs like it here as much as people do," said Tice, an infectious disease specialist. A recent study found that Hawaii leads the nation in MRSA cases.
Ways to reduce your risk of infection
Good hygiene is the best way to avoid infection from a potentially dangerous drug-resistant germ called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. A new government report suggests that more 90,000 Americans annually get an invasive form of the disease, which can be deadly.
This staph infection sometimes first appears on the skin as a red, swollen pimple or boil that may be painful or have pus. It can be spread by close skin-to-skin contact or by touching surfaces contaminated with the germ.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises:
» Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
» Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
» Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
» Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.
Seven to 10 years ago, this form of Staphylococcus aureus wasn't seen outside the hospital, and the bug has changed dramatically in the community, passing more easily from one person to the next, Tice said.
The Hawaii Health and Information Corp. found 2,112 hospitalized patients were diagnosed with MRSA in 2006 in Hawaii. It also reported hospital stays for MRSA cases were highest on Maui, where there were 188 hospitalizations per 100,000 population. Kauai came in second with 176 hospitalizations per 100,000. By comparison, rates range between 89 and 113 hospitalizations per 100,000 population on the mainland.
Hawaii's Department of Health had no statistics for MRSA because there are no requirements for reporting it, which the state is working to change, according to a department spokeswoman.
The MRSA germs don't respond to penicillin-related antibiotics, partly because of the overuse of those drugs, experts say. The bug proliferates in patients in hospitals, where bacteria can be transported by doctors, nurses or equipment, they say.
Those in long-term care facilities are at a higher risk of infections because many are on dialysis, are catheterized, have feeding tubes or other invasive devices, the Hawaii Health and Information Corp. says.
The antibiotic-resistant staph infections also plague the homeless in Hawaii. Two-thirds of impoverished people who have staph wound infections have the resistant strains, which are difficult and expensive to treat, often requiring intravenous treatment, said Tice.
A third of people in the community carry the bacterium, but have no symptoms, Tice said. A recent study of 100 college students surveyed revealed 33 had staph but showed no symptoms.