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Pulmonary bacterial infections higher in Hawaii

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

Residents of Hawaii who have asthma or are immunocompromised are discovering that the island may not be the best place for them. It has been found that minerals present in tropical destinations can be harmful to individuals with pulmonary conditions, potentially leading to pulmonary bacterial infections and exacerbating respiratory symptoms.

Hawaii boasts one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, where the climate contains up to 10 of the 12 known climate zones on the planet. This unique, variable tropical climate has now been discovered to be an ideal breeding ground for a species of bacteria known as non-tuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM. This bacteria has been shown to be especially harmful to people with underlying medical conditions. The infection rate can be up to four times higher than for the same bacterial species on mainland America.

Researchers from BYU and national Jewish Health teamed up to analyze over 600 soil samples taken from the island in order to better understand how environmental factors are getting into homes and causing disease. The researchers discovered specific minerals in the soil which included iron, manganese, and hematite, which are contributing to the infectiousness of the bacteria. After careful study of the pure minerals under scanning electron microscopy, it was discovered that NTM can bind to certain minerals much more readily than others, and this is the main cause for the elevated levels of infection. Of all the minerals studied, it seems that hematite is the main culprit. Hematite is the component in Hawaiian soil which makes it slightly reddish.

Since this is ultimately a public health concern, the goal is to be able to find exactly where and how the bacteria is getting into homes, and to be able to inform the public about how to initiate prevention. This will also have broader applications, as this problem has been seen in other tropical climates as well.


Cami Buckley. (2020, December 3). Hawaiian minerals increasing lung infection rates on the islands, study finds. - News and Articles on Science and Technology.

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