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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, May 25, 2002

Tourist survives bacteria attack

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — Another case of the so-called flesh-eating bacteria known as necrotizing fasciitis has been reported on Maui.

However, this time the patient, a tourist, is said to have brought the disease to the Valley Isle after being bitten by a bug on the Big Island.

No new cases are known to have originated on Maui, where a recent cluster of six cases resulted in three deaths.

Health officials yesterday continued to say there is no cause for alarm, because a handful of cases of the disease — a severe form of the common Group A streptococcal infection, which also causes strep throat — are reported in Hawai'i every year.

The recent cases are within the "normal" range of frequency of occurrence and do not pose an immediate hazard or threat to public health, state Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said yesterday.

The woman, a 60-year-old Oregon resident, is recovering at Maui Memorial Medical Center, two weeks after she was bitten on the leg on the Big Island, according to Dr. Scott Hoskinson, an infectious-disease specialist on Maui.

The woman, who experienced swelling, pain and fever and had developed a nasty blister, was lucky because she came to an island with a heightened awareness about the disease, Hoskinson said.

He said that as soon as the woman arrived on Maui, she came to the hospital's emergency room, where medical personnel recognized the problem right away.

"It's just one of those amazing circumstances,'' Hoskinson said.

The disease, which worsens as the tissue layers between the muscles and organs get infected, was caught early in this case. Doctors had to remove only some skin tissue, he said, as opposed to having to perform an amputation, which is common in more advanced cases of the rapidly spreading disease.

Last month, after the cluster of cases came to light, state health officials sent an alert to the medical community on Maui in an effort to increase awareness of these kinds of infections.

Hoskinson described the cases — in which three people died over a three-month period — as a statistical anomaly. One of the victims was a 48-year-old man who died less than two weeks after being bitten by a centipede.

Health officials say early signs and symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis include fever, severe pain and swelling, and redness at the wound site.

Wounds should receive immediate care to reduce the likelihood of getting the disease. That includes washing with soap and water.

Meanwhile, Maui Memorial Medical Center will host a two-day course May 31-June 1 to train health-care professionals in treating wounds. The course features expert Bonnie Sparks-DeFriese of the Wound Management Institute of Phoenix, Ariz.