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Wednesday, January 16, 2008


A New Life-Threatening, Sexually-Transmitted Disease

I don't usually cut-and-paste entire articles on this blog, but this one freaked me out enough that I thought you should read it. It's here, too. I'm not trying to be alarmist, but does anyone else think this sounds eerily like the way the AIDS epidemic was first written about in the 80's?
A drug-resistant strain of potentially deadly bacteria has moved beyond the borders of U.S. hospitals and is being transmitted among gay men during sex, researchers said on Monday. They said methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is beginning to appear outside hospitals in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Sexually active gay men in San Francisco are 13 times more likely to be infected than their heterosexual neighbors, the researchers reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"Once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable," said Binh Diep, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who led the study. "That's why we're trying to spread the message of prevention."

According to chemical analyses, bacteria are spreading among the gay communities of San Francisco and Boston, the researchers said. "We think that it's spread through sexual activity," Diep said. This superbug can cause life-threatening and disfiguring infections and can often only be treated with expensive, intravenous antibiotics. It killed about 19,000 Americans in 2005, most of them in hospitals, according to a report published in October in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About 30 percent of all people carry ordinary staph chronically. It can be passed by touching other people or by depositing the bacteria on surfaces or objects. The bacteria can cause deep-tissue infections if they enter the body through a wound in the skin. Of those people who carry staph, most carry it in their noses but community-based MRSA also can live in and around the anus and is passed between sexual partners.

Incidence of MRSA is rising along with the resurgence of syphilis, rectal gonorrhea, and new HIV infections partly because of changes in beliefs about the severity of HIV and an increase in risky behaviors, such as illicit drug use and having sex that abrades the skin, Diep's team wrote. "Your likelihood of contracting each of these diseases increases with the number of sexual partners that you have," Diep said. "The same can probably be said for MRSA."

Staph infections often look like raised red dots on the skin. Left untreated, the areas can swell and fill with pus. The best way to avoid infection is by washing the hands or genitals with soap and water, Diep said.

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Blogger StinkyLulu said...

I think the key point is in your phrase "the way it's written about." I found this post instructive, as well as this feature story on NPR. It's scary, yes, but it's also worth being a little suspicious of the "gay man plague" boilerplate that has been conventionalized since those early NYT stories.

Also, remember the advocacy work that ProjRun's Jack did when he left the show because of MRSA: it's serious; it's treatable; it's not HIV. (But of course, in the days since all this MRSA has been popping up, I've been wondering where Jack had been putting his face in the days before his ProjRun MRSA manifested...)

1/16/08, 9:04 AM  
Blogger Cal said...

MRSA was a big talking point last year, but in terms of cleanliness in hospitals. I thought it was something that struck quick though, so you'd know if you had it. Or am I wrong?

1/16/08, 12:04 PM  
Blogger joe*to*hell said...

that is exactlyyyy what i thought when i read it.

1/16/08, 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a likely more a combination of several things: First and foremost, the abuse of anitbiotics in this country. Where I'm from (South Texas) all you have to do is cross the border and get medication for whatever ailes you. Often, people will get penicillin or antibiotics without realizing they don't need them. When you do take them, it is usually for a specified period of time. Even though people feel better, they stop before completing the regimine, thus the bacterias ability to evolve and become ultimately become immune.

My other concern within the gay community is the lapse in judgement due to the fact that the younger generation no longer considers HIV a death sentence. I also think that transmission of various HIV medications between various partners is also leading to the very same type of resistance. You put these combos together (HIV meds + antibiotics) and their misuse, and all of a sudden you have a new multistrain resistant bug.

Just a hypothesis, but I wouldn't be surprised that in the coming months or in a year, much of what I just mentioned is comes to light.

Finally, in answer to MF's first question, this is exactly what happened when AIDS was first discovered. I was there and saw my brother die in 1986. I remembe the stories and the jokes as early as '84 when I was still in high school. The only difference now, is that these are "staph" infections, which have been around forever. The fact the a newly resistant type is no surprise. Obviously, the overall concern will not be just gays, but everyone, since no one is immune and it is easier to transmit, just be contact. Over course, the gay community will be the obvious target and as always, "it's our fault".

We'll never learn.

1/16/08, 12:39 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

This is the same MRSA that's been showing up in hospitals, police stations, and schools. It's a drug-resistant staph infection that has probably arisen because of too many people running out to get antibiotics just because they have the sniffles.

I think it's appalling that they're trying to paint this as another "gay disease" -- especially when the reports have had this out in the "general population" (as if the gay community were in some sort of prison) for over a year.

This isn't a sexually transmitted disease any more than a cold is. Yes, if you have sex with someone who has a cold you're probably going to get a cold. If you have sex with someone carrying MRSA, you're probably going to get MRSA. It's a bacteria.

The common thread among the "general community" (sic) places where MRSA has shown up here in NJ seems to be places with locker rooms -- firehouses, gyms, high schools, police stations. Here in NJ, it's shown up in at least five high schools and I can recall reading about two firehouses and a couple of police stations. And no one here is talking about MRSA as an STD.

1/19/08, 4:48 AM  

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