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    January 19, 2008

    Experts rethink staph stories

    Posted by: Chris

    Newsweekstaph Kudos to the gay press editors and blogger Michael Petrelis for blasting the sensationalist media coverage of the "flesh-eating" staph epidemic infecting gay men that's now supposedly "threatening the general population."

    A report by the University of California at San Francisco about the multiple-drug resistant staph infection known as MRSA resulted in headlines around the world that recalled the initial AIDS panic of the '80s, along with the predictable conservative finger-pointing in response.

    Cynthia Laird of the Bay Area Reporter was among the earliest to question the coverage, pointing out in an editorial that the staph infection story has been reported in the gay press for years. We reported the initial outbreak among gay men on the front page of the Washington Blade way back in February 2003. (I couldn't find the story online but you can read it in the jump to this post.)

    Duncan Osborne of Gay City News asked in an open letter to the New York Times, which also covered the MRSA "outbreak," to justify how it could report the infection is spread through gay sexual contact when the UCSF researchers specificall concluded, "Specific sexual behaviors were not assessed or documented in clinic charts; we therefore cannot comment on the association between multidrug-resistant USA300 infection and specific male–male sexual practices." In fact, experts told us at the Blade back in November 2004 that "manscaping" -- cosmetic shaving of body parts -- might be responsible for the spread of MRSA.

    Now that Newsweek has joined Laird, Osborne, Petrelis and others questioning the direction of early coverage, let me ask another complaint:  Why aren't more journalists pressing the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to explain why, a half-decade after these cases were first being reported, we still don't know more about MRSA, including what causes it, how to treat it and how it can be prevented.

    It's not enough for the CDC to belatedly defend gay men from accusations of infection-spreading. You would think that after the CDC's criminally slow response to HIV/AIDS, the agency would have learned its lesson and would have moved more aggressively in response to MRSA.

    It's incumbent on the media, including the mainstream press now that it's discovered the story -- to ask the same hard questions that should have been asked in the dark early days of AIDS.

    Washington Blade
    Feb 14, 2003
    Page 1

    CDC investigates staph outbreak

    Clinics briefed nationwide on puzzling skin infections in Calif. gay men


    Dozens of gay men in Los Angeles and San Francisco have contracted a severe bacterial skin infection resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

    The skin infections, called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, have until recently stricken mostly elderly patients in hospitals and nursing homes. But since 1997, non-hospital population groups such as prison inmates, members of athletic teams, and most recently, gay men, have contracted the condition, raising concern by public health officials that a new, undetermined factor is causing the bacteria to flourish in a wider group of people.

    CDC officials on Feb. 7 informed the heads of gay community health clinics in seven cities about the outbreak of MRSA among gay men in a telephone conference call. Among those participating in the phone conference was A. Cornelius Baker, executive director of D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Clinic.

    A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Health said no known cases of MRSA in non-hospital settings have been reported in the D.C. area.

    The gay men who contracted the infections in L.A. and San Francisco have been treated for rapidly growing boils and abscesses on various parts of their bodies. There have been no reported deaths from the infections, CDC officials said. Those stricken have so far recovered from the infections after receiving potent antibiotics, some of which are used to treat anthrax infection.

    CDC officials said the gay men were the latest “community” group to contract MRSA in a non-hospital setting. Since 1997, prison inmates, members of athletic teams, and Native Americans in the United States and Canada have contracted the infection, CDC officials said.

    “This is not an issue that is exclusive to the gay community,” said Nicolle Coffin, an official with the CDC’s Division of Health Care Quality & Promotion who participated in the conference call to the gay clinics.

    Bob Bolan, a physician with the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s HIV clinic, said at least nine patients in the center’s clinic contracted MRSA since December. Although the nine have HIV, Bolan said the L.A. County Department of Health Services has reported that many gay men who have contracted MRSA in the L.A. area during the past year do not have HIV. He said most were in excellent health.

    “We’ve seen some real nasty skin eruptions,” said Bolan.

    Cause remains unclear

    The CDC and L.A. County health officials have yet to determine the mode of transmission of MRSA among gay men. Bolan said the most logical theory is through sexual contact and possible contamination of equipment and other facilities in health clubs or sex clubs such as bathhouses.

    A fact sheet released by the CDC says exercise equipment, towels, and other objects that come in contact with an infected person’s skin can pass the bacteria to others who come into contact with those objects.

    Coffin of the CDC said that because the federal government doesn’t require doctors and state health departments to report MRSA cases to the CDC, the exact number of non-hospital related cases contracted by gay men or members of other groups is unknown. L.A. health department officials say they know of at least three-dozen gay male patients who have contracted the infection during the past year.

    More than 1,000 cases have surfaced in the L.A. County prison systems, officials said. Bill Owen, a physician in San Francisco’s gay Castro neighborhood, told the San Francisco Chronicle he estimates there have been between 200 to 300 cases among gay men in the San Francisco Bay area.

    Charles Ellison, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Health, said the department is not aware of any cases of MRSA among gay men or other population groups in the D.C. area outside of hospitals and nursing homes.

    “When the case is truly MRSA, you are limited to a few drugs, including one that is administered intravenously,” Bolan said. “Most drugs can’t kill the organism. You must rely on a person’s immune system to kill it. The drugs only check it.”

    Because of this, Bolan said, people with HIV who have weakened immune systems struggled to overcome the infections. He said many require long hospital stays and prolonged drug treatment.

    Lou Chibbaro Jr. can be reached at [email protected].


    Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to as “staph,” is a form of bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Between 25 to 30 percent of the population have staph bacteria in the nose, the fact sheet says.

    Infection occurs mostly when the bacteria enter the body through a cut or wound. In most cases, healthy people can overcome an infection of non-MRSA staph without treatment.

    MRSA traditionally has been confined to hospitalized patients who are elderly or very ill and who have open wounds such as bedsores. Other hospitalized patients prone to MRSA infection have tubes entering their body such as urinary catheters or intravenous catheters used for kidney dialysis.

    “MRSA is almost always spread by direct physical contact, and not through the air,” the CDC fact sheet says. “Spread may also occur through indirect contact by touching objects (i.e., towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas, sports equipment) contaminated by the infected skin of a person with MRSA or staph bacteria,” the CDC fact sheet says.

    Infection can be prevented, the fact sheet says, by regular hand washing, keeping cuts and abrasions clean and covered with a proper dressing and bandage until healed, and treating dry, cracked skin with a moisturizer.

    CDC officials say it is imperative that anyone being treated for MRSA completes the full course of their prescribed antibiotics. Not doing so, public health officials say, could cause the staph bacteria that causes MRSA to become resistant to the few remaining drugs that can be used to treat it.

    Source: CDC



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    1. The Gay Species on Jan 20, 2008 9:47:11 PM:

      MRSA has been a feature of public health for several years, but like other denialists (HIV does not cause AIDS), you promote DENIAL, which is politically inexpedient for the Newsom protege of Nancy "identity" Machine Politics. Next, you'll be claiming butyl nitrate causes AIDS!

      The UCSF study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine had been politically suppressed -- by the LEFT, not the RIGHT. By Pelosi's "Ted Haggard" Mayor protege of Torture Porn and Kink, which is HIS only "new business." But Medicine is held to a higher standard, even if Bush appoints "Christian Pregnancy Obstetricians" as its Population Tsar to bilk Medicaid, and even if Petrelis seeks "heroin kiosks" for spreading addiction -- without HIV infection.

      You don't think the LEFT does the same politicalization of science as the RIGHT? Lysenko ring any bells? Pelosi, Feinstein, and Newsom have "bigger fish to fry," as long as DENIAL works - with the "Twisted Sisters" feeble anti-meth efforts to address a "problem" already addressed by the pre-Bush F.D.A..

      And the Machine's promoters fall into line, like addicts after their fix. In OZ with the Wizards of Denial excusing their Dorothies for porn's sake may be a PlanetOut storyline, but not in medical journals of integrity, to which the medical campus of the University of California must ultimately answer -- politics aside. They have a higher authority to answer to: Impartial Facts of Scientific Evidence.

      You are the Peter Duesberg Award Nominee of the Day. MRSA is and has been in pandemic force for over four years -- and only a medical journal reveals what LEFT and RIGHT want concealed. Their political failure.

    1. CaGay on Jan 21, 2008 3:33:45 PM:

      Why is it always gay men, at least in the United States, who always come out with the virulent new strain of bug XYZ? Even if it's not spreading to the general population - yet? Can we please pause and ask ourselves that question? Could there be a scientific reason? A reason related to behavior? Could it have anything to do with, shall we say, a certain excess of social-sexual contact in gay male culture as it is presently constructed? Could we please stop and look at ourselves, for 10 minutes? BEFORE this thing turns into another AIDS?

    1. Randy Bear on Jan 21, 2008 9:57:40 PM:

      You know I was thinking the same thing. At the risk of being "not with the mainstream of gay culture" is it our relaxed sexual behavior with multiple partners that creates these unusual disease strains? If this does truly become the next AIDS we really need to look back into our culture and see what the issue might be. Sticking our heads in the sand is not an option any more. Responsibility should be more of the norm.

    1. Elizabeth Pisani on Jan 25, 2008 8:24:30 AM:

      A researcher reports that an infectious, unpleasant but perfectly preventable condition is found 16 times more frequently in group A than in group B though there are cases in group B, too). If you are a member of group A, do you:

      a) get on with preventing it
      b) say: it's not just us, anyone can get it, then do nothing
      c) scream that nasty people in group B are getting at you, then do nothing
      d) both b) and c)

      In truth, it doesn't matter if non-gays get multi-drug resistant staf too. If lots of gays guys are at risk, then the gay community should be organising to prevent it rather than whining about being victimised.
      More on this at http://www.wisdomofwhores.com

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