Hawaii Leads Nation in Deadly Staph Infections

Dr. Alan Tice
Dr. Alan Tice

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- There are reports from across the nation of students being diagnosed with antibiotic-resistant staph infections.  In Nebraska, four basketball players got sick with staph infections.

A high school football player in Virginia and a middle school girl in Mississippi recently died from a strain of staph called MRSA.

So, the question is do we need to be concerned in Hawaii about the superbug known as MRSA? The answer is yes.

Hawaii is home to beautiful beaches, but our tropical paradise is also home to bacteria that causes staph infections.

And the deadliest strain is called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, more commonly known as MRSA.

"This is an organism that once it gets into the body, can go to the heart, or the lungs and people can die," said Dr. Alan Tice, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

The bacteria that causes staph infection has been around for thousands of years, but a recent medical study conducted by the Association for Practitioners in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) found a disturbing trend in MRSA cases in Hawaii.

"And they looked at all the different states, and Hawaii has the worst for the most frequent area for the people that were hospitalized because of MRSA," Dr. Tice said.

In fact, Hawaii has twice the national average, and native Hawaiians are more prone to staph infections.

This study follows a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) several years ago on staph infections.

"They found that there was a clear, continued increase in the number of people admitted to the Hawaii hospitals over time," said Dr. Tice.

MRSA is so serious, it has overtaken other well-known diseases.

"This is a major problem," said Dr. Tice.  "It's been a problem for years. Even the MRSA strain of staph aureus are killing people as fast as AIDS is in many respects and many other diseases as well."

And Hawaii's homeless population is more likely to get MRSA because of their environment.

For MRSA, there are tell-tale signs.

"First of all, if there is a wound, an entrance wound of some sort, that becomes red, hot, inflamed, you start to think about, hmm, this could be an infection," said Dr. Tice.

There are ways to minimize your risk to prevent this potentially killer disease.

"Changing your clothes on a regular basis, washing them," said Dr. Tice.  "These are simple basic things but very important."

Washing your hands frequently also helps, as well as showering or taking a bath on a daily basis.

As many as 200 people in Hawaii die each year from MRSA.

The Department of Education is taking this news seriously.  Educators plan to meet Friday with the Department of Health to discuss a state-wide plan that would minimize the risk of staph-infection in Hawaii's public schools.