New bacteria strain concerns health department

Bob Havrilak
Bob Havrilak
Dr. Alan Tice
Dr. Alan Tice

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HAWAII KAI (KHNL) -  A brand new strain of bacteria infection has the Hawaii Department of Health concerned.  It's been around a decade in various parts of the world, but this is the first known case in Hawaii, and doctors have not found a way to treat it.

Most of us have heard of MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a drug-resistant strain of bacteria, that's killed more people worldwide than the AIDS virus last year.   Now this new strain is even stronger than MRSA, which means doctors don't exactly know how to fight it just yet.

Bob Havrilak is an environmental engineer by trade, but he's now become a health education advocate because of six separate staph infections on the mainland.

"It causes your body to be poisoned," said the 55-year-old Hawaii Kai resident.  "If you don't catch them in the beginning, they can literally cause death."

What appeared to be a simple infection turned much more serious.

"It has literally put me in the hospital in days and I've spent weeks in the hospital recovering and having outpatient therapy," said Havrilak.

Hawaii has twice the national average of staph infections due to our tropical environment, and the number of cases is going up.

"It's worsening problem but not only that but the resistant strains are more resistant to antibiotics to the point where you need intravenous antibiotics instead of just pills for serious infections," said Dr. Alan Tice, an infectious diseases expert practicing in Honolulu.

And the stronger strain, called VRSA or Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is resistant to the antibiotic that treats MRSA.

"It's going to be more difficult to treat," said Dr. Tice. "It's going to be dangerous as well."

So far, no new cases of VRSA have been reported, but the health department is monitoring the situation.

In the meantime, people like Havrilak are doing all they can to minimize their risk.  He passes on this piece of advice:

"Be aware of any wound or ulcer or damage to their skin that could be susceptible to the bacteria and keep an eye on it," said Havrilak.

And an eye on a stronger strain that doesn't seem to respond to current treatment.

Doctors say it's important to be aware of cuts that don't heal or become red and inflamed, and the earlier it's treated, the better your chances are.

Again, it is just this one case of VRSA, but because it's such a strong strain, doctors are treating it as a serious matter.