Two Oahu men diagnosed last month with a rare and lethal bacterial infection were hospitalized after their organs began shutting down.
Dr. Scott Miscovich, a family medicine physician in Kaneohe, treated both for Weil’s disease, a severe type of leptospirosis that can cause organ failure and death.
Both had small cuts on their feet and had walked through muddy waters in Kahaluu before feeling flu-like symptoms — body aches, diarrhea, fever and fatigue — about a week later.
Kahaluu resident William Ching, 44, was hospitalized for a week after walking in slippers on a friend’s farm.
He may have contracted the disease through a small open wound on his toe. After three to four days of severe symptoms, he called a friend to take him to the hospital. It took doctors a couple of days to diagnose the rare case of leptospirosis, he said.
“They said if I never come to the hospital, in one, two days later, I would’ve been dead in my house,” Ching said. “I never know. I just thought I had one bad case of the flu. I never felt that way before. I was scared knowing that I had something bad.”
Miscovich added, “His entire body was yellow — every ounce of his body was swollen from the failure of his kidneys and liver.”
The second patient, Norman Taira, was hospitalized for a month after working in a taro patch. He was put on emergency dialysis and “nearly died from liver and kidney failure.”
The 59-year-old Heeia resident said he had a cut on his foot in late December when he went into the loi and doesn’t remember going into the hospital because he was put into an induced coma when his kidneys and liver started failing. Emergency room doctors initially did not diagnose the disease and sent him home at least once with nausea medication, he said.
“I heard I died twice and they brought me back,” said Taira, whose left leg and fingers are still numb following the ordeal. “They said I flatlined. I just remember getting tubes down my throat and kind of spacing out. I feel lucky I’m still here.”
Miscovich said, “After the kidney and liver, it started to break down the lung tissues. He was bleeding from his lungs and almost drowned in his blood.”
The doctor, who has been practicing medicine for 30 years and owns Windward Urgent Care, alerted the state Health Department after laboratory tests came back positive for Weil’s disease. After a series of antibiotics, both men were discharged from the hospital. They are still recovering.
“That’s one of the big problems: We want to alert the state and both the doctors and the patients that if you look at the symptoms, it can act like the flu. A lot of people will basically sit at home and try to let it run its course,” he said.
Weil’s disease is fatal in 10 percent of cases, Miscovich said, adding that there are only 200 cases diagnosed in the United States each year, half of them in Hawaii.
“You can’t even find reports of it,” he said. “The thing about it is early treatment with very straightforward, simple antibiotics, even taken orally, will effectively treat and stop leptospirosis in its early stages.”
He warns the public to be aware of potentially contaminated waters with leptospirosis, which can infect people through open cuts, wounds, sores and through the eyes, nose and mouth.
State Health Department officials said there were 23 leptospirosis cases reported in 2018 and five to date in 2019, but it didn’t know how many cases may have developed into Weil’s disease.