Hawaii's homeless vulnerable to new, ‘epidemic' bacteria strain - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii's homeless vulnerable to new, ‘epidemic' bacteria strain

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Mike Brewer Mike Brewer
Dr. Alan Tice Dr. Alan Tice

By Leland Kim - bio | email

NANAKULI (KHNL) -  Hawaii leads the nation in hospital admissions for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, a deadly bacteria infection resistant to antibiotics.  Now, a new, more powerful strain is hitting our most vulnerable population and doctors say this could become Hawaii's silent epidemic.

Mike Brewer loves living in Makakilo.  He's called this beach home for the past two years.  While he enjoys his freedom, he has to take care of his stuff.

"Things I do value, I got to take with me," said Brewer, who is originally from San Francisco, California. "I cannot really trust people because they'll go through my stuff like it's a rummage sale."

Life can be tough when you don't have a roof over your head and have to rely on Mother Nature.

But beyond that, there are major health concerns. Unsanitary conditions and lack of access to regular hygiene leave the homeless population vulnerable to serious infections.

Recently, Brewer was bit by a bug, and got MRSA, the potentially deadly bacteria strain resistant to antibiotics.

"It cost me six weeks in the hospital," he said. "I had to have this real heavy duty antibiotic that I had to stay on to get the infection out of me."

Brewer's not alone.  Hawaii leads the country in MRSA infections, and it's impacting our homeless population at an alarming rate.

"And what we found is that a surprising number of homeless people with wounds of any sort recovered Staphylococcus aureus," said Dr. Alan Tice, an infectious diseases specialist with the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Seventy-two percent had staph infections and about 80 percent of those had a new, even stronger epidemic strain called USA 300, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"About 19,000 Americans die each year from MRSA infections, which is more than the number of people that die of AIDS," said Dr. Tice.

MRSA is a global problem and doctors from all over the world are on Oahu to talk about how to fight it.  Until they find a way, people like Brewer try to minimize their risk.

"Watch out when I do get cuts and what I pick up and stuff like that," he said. "But you're bound to get accidents so it's just life you have to deal with and cope with."

And it's not just the homeless.  MRSA can be easily transmitted from person to person, so if you have a bite or an open wound, you could be vulnerable.  The MRSA Symposium is going on Wednesday until Saturday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  For more information, go here or click the "MRSA Symposium" link on this page.