DOH says increase in staph infections normal in summer

The state Department of Health has received calls from residents concerned about reports of staph and skin infections in Hana Bay, but said that such reports are normal for the summer months.

“At this time, the DOH does not believe there is any unusual or out-of-the-ordinary spread of infection,” said Janice Okubo, state Health Department spokeswoman, on Monday.

The department will continue to monitor the situation, she said, noting that reports of staph infection increase in the summer with more outdoor recreation.

Hana resident Lehua Cosma said Monday that about a dozen people have been infected by the staph bacteria, related to swimming in Hana Bay, and that one adult has been hospitalized. She considers these reports of infection “an outbreak.”

“It’s so unusual,” she said. “This is the first time we seen so much people. . . . It raises a concern.”

Cosma said her grandchildren, frequent users of Hana Bay, are among those with staph infections. She called for the Health Department to test the waters of Hana Bay.

But a Health Department official said that this is the time of year when reports of staph infections rise.

“In the summer months, when people are enjoying more outdoor recreational activities, often more infections may arise in the community,” said department health educator Rachel Heckscher.

The staph bacteria is on everyone’s skin. Infections are caused when the bacteria enters through a break in the skin from a cut or scrape, she said.

Infections may be spread by towels or skin-to-skin contact, she said. Paddlers may be susceptible to cuts and scratches while getting in and out of boats.

Heckscher offered some tips to prevent infection:

* Wash hands frequently with soap and water.

* Bathe separately.

* Wash body with soap after swimming.

* Do not share towels.

* Keep wounds clean and covered. This includes cuts, scratches, mosquito bites, pimples that have been scratched, open blisters and existing sores.

Young children and people who are immune-compromised should be especially careful to keep wounds clean and covered, Heckscher and Okubo said.

Those with infections should see a doctor.

After being advised by Cosma and consulting with the Health Department, county employees in Hana today will begin disseminating information about staph infections and prevention, said Rod Antone, county spokesman.

Cosma said that getting the word out was important, especially for tourists who may be unaware of the potential for infections. As far as the residents of the small, tight Hana community, “everybody take care of each other,” she said.

For more information, go to the website and link to DOH staph and MRSA page and and link to the DOH impetigo page.

* Lee Imada can be reached at