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CDC Clarifies MRSA Staph 'Superbug' Story

The CDC yesterday issued a clarification to last week's story about the MRSA staph 'superbug' targeting gay men in urban areas after it was immediately picked up by mainstream news media and seized upon by right-wing religious groups as the latest threat to the general population from the gay community.

MrsaThe CDC notes: "MRSA is a common cause of skin infections throughout the United States. These infections occur in men, women, adults, children, and persons of all races and sexual orientations, and are known to be transmitted by close skin-to-skin contact. In this issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Diep et al looked at isolates of MRSA - USA300 strains containing a particular plasmid associated with additional drug resistance. The paper shows that multidrug-resistant USA300 has emerged as an important source of disease among men with have sex with men in 2 geographically distinct communities. The strains of MRSA described in the recent Annals of Internal Medicine have mostly been identified in certain groups of men who have sex with men (MSM), but have also been found in some persons who are not MSM. It is important to note that the groups of MSM in which these isolates have been described are not representative of all MSM, so conclusions can not be drawn about the prevalence of these strains among all MSM. The groups studied in this report may share other characteristics or behaviors that facilitate spread of MRSA, such as frequent skin-to-skin contact."

In a seeming effort to quell panic, the CDC goes on to say that the continuing study of these strains indicates that they are rare, and there are still effective antibiotic choices (including those taken orally) available to treat infections, but transmission prevention is still important.

They conclude: "MRSA is typically transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, which occurs during a variety of activities, including sex. There is no evidence at this time to suggest that it MRSA is a sexually-transmitted infection in the classical sense."

Diep's story and hysterical warning that "once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable" was quickly seized upon by right-wing religious leaders like Peter LaBarbera and Matt Barber as the latest threat to the general population from the gay community, and criticized by editors at gay newspapers across the country, as well as one heterosexual female medical reporter who called it "homophobic and looking to paint gay men as filthy carriers of infectious disease, who have too much sex."

And, Salon writes: "When it comes to spreading the bacteria, it is not homosexuals we have to worry about. It is that much wider swath of the male population examined in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the journal, the medical researchers were not studying gays, they were studying the St. Louis Rams. That is correct: football players; in particular, linebackers. 'In our investigation,' the journal noted, 'infection occurred only among linemen and linebackers, and not among those in backfield positions, probably because of the frequent contact among linemen during practice and games.' Those rug burns I mentioned are in fact turf burns. 'All MRSA skin abscesses developed at sites of turf burns," declared the journal.'"

Still, vigilance is important and the CDC does offer some transmission prevention tips with their release. I've also posted them AFTER THE JUMP...

CDC Statement on MRSA in Men Who Have Sex with Men [cdc]
Lies, Damn Lies, and So-Called Science: Gay Men and Bacteria [marc arendt]
3 gay editors question sensational staph stories [daily kos]
Staph infections: The right call [salon]

Officials: Staph 'Superbug' Spreading in Gay Community [tr]

You can prevent spreading staph or MRSA skin infections to others by following these steps:

1. Cover your wound. Keep wounds that are draining or have pus covered with clean, dry bandages. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on proper care of the wound. Pus from infected wounds can contain staph and MRSA, so keeping wounds covered will help prevent the spread to others. Bandages or tape can be discarded with the regular trash.
2. Clean your hands. You, your family, and others in close contact should wash their hands frequently with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after changing the bandage or touching the infected wounds.
3. Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or uniforms that may have had contact with infected wounds or bandages. Wash sheets, towels, and clothes that become soiled with water and laundry detergent. Drying clothes in a hot dryer, rather than air-drying, also helps kill bacteria in clothes.
4. Talk to your doctor. Tell any healthcare providers who treat you that you have or had a staph or MRSA skin infection.

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  1. Wow, the CDC did something right. Amazing for a government agency!

    I usually don't go in for health scares, but living in the SF zip code (94114) with the highest incidence of this staph did cause mild panic in me earlier this week. Too bad they weren't more specific about the "MSM" most at risk, other than those who touch. Which is most everyone.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 17, 2008 7:20:06 PM

  2. Is this really something I should be 'fraid of? I can barely remember stuff as it is, and when I've been drinking and horny, half the time I don't ask my bf's to use condoms.

    Isn't this just the media trying to scare us? Or isn't there just a pill you can take if it happens? Life's just too damn short to worry 'bout all the stuff they want u 2.

    Posted by: Jordan | Jan 17, 2008 7:28:17 PM

  3. My straight nephew (the son of my Baptist brother--a sweet guy, btw) this past fall developed MSRA which led to bacterial meningitis. Apparently, he's a slovenly pig who lives in close quarters with other people. In case you didn't understand that, The Mizes Barber and La Barbera, that would be one of y'all's people. I'm related to him but I don't share his proclivities, thank Goddess. From my point of view, another reason to ban heterosexuality.

    Posted by: woodroad34 | Jan 17, 2008 7:42:00 PM

  4. Jordan, are you being satirical, or are you really that stupid and irresponsible?

    i'm leaning towards satire, but am not 100% sure. so just in case: if you have more than one bf (or one bf who might at times have other bfs), there is absolutely no excuse for not using condoms every time. to "forget" when you're drunk and horny is just unbelievably dumb, selfish, and dangerous.

    apologies if you were being ironic, but with the audience on this site i think it's best not to blur those distinctions.

    Posted by: humanist | Jan 17, 2008 7:57:37 PM

  5. A mistake, error, oversight, naivete from a government agency in the Bush Dark Ages? You'd have to have had your head in the sand these past 7 years not to recognize the original press release as anything other than deliberate misinformation.

    Posted by: Gil | Jan 17, 2008 7:58:04 PM

  6. Humanist,
    I was serious (as always). Why does everyone always think I'm being humorous when I'm not? When I'm not serious I put 'lol' after it or something.

    And it's not just a matter of being 'stupid' or dumb or whatever. Sometimes you just are in the moment and don't care or carried away or whatever to use protection....and SOMETIMES it's just hotter not to. That's all I'm saying.

    I'm used to being used to being called names around here. I was just askin' a question.

    Posted by: Jordan | Jan 17, 2008 8:30:08 PM

  7. Gil, there is a lot of publicity, money, attention drawn to the hatred of same sex love, sex, and relationships. Its like a hit song that gets you royalties every time its played. The song was recorded years ago and is still a big golden oldie. Very popular amongst the masses. Fuck the CDC and their stupid, biased, prejudiced, unscientific bullshit. Only a moron would stop to give these hucksters the time of day.

    Posted by: Vi Agara | Jan 17, 2008 8:30:56 PM

  8. The original press release was irresponsible and full misinformation and misleading statements that were sure to start a fire storm of homophobic hysteria.

    I have commented on numerous comment boards saying EXACTLY the things that this follow up press release "clarified".

    I can't help but think that the first press release accomplished EXACTLY what the authors INTENDED. It was just too cleverly written to be an accident. From the way things were said to the way critical information was left out to the way they used words like "potentially sexually transmitted" before going into a gay sex fear rant it sounds like a classic gay fear smear campaign reminiscent misinformation anti-gay AIDS campaigns of the 80's.

    Posted by: ZEKE | Jan 17, 2008 8:37:06 PM

  9. Denial about AIDS really worked well for us, too, didn't it? There should be a special gay male edition of the Darwin Awards. Really there should. All we ask is that you fuck yourselves to death faster. Please.

    Posted by: Charles | Jan 17, 2008 8:38:52 PM

  10. Charles, beg your pardon, but adhereing to safe sex practices does not mean one has to believe and support hateful, political, anti-gay bullshit from groups trying to move up the charts.

    Posted by: Vi agara | Jan 17, 2008 8:54:39 PM

  11. Hysteria at work. Dismal science. Amateurishness at tis worse and Homophobia. All the so called reporters are repeating the same alarming numbers. ONE IN 588 in Castro disctrict. Who took the time to read the demographics and do an elementary (primary school) arithmetic job? There are 20,545 residents in Castro district. One in 588 is : (1/588)X 20,545 = 35. There are a whopping 35 persons who are affected by this shit. Man! this article is all around the planet for 35 cases in Castro. When thousands and thousands Americans died of MSRA in the last 5 years. But hey they mixed the magic words in the same text: Gay, Sex, Deadly, Bacteria, targeting ( and the perfect General Population). By the way: I never met a journalist who understood even elementary probabilities or statistics. Kahneman and Tversky (Nobel prize in Economics) also demonstrated incidentaly that most Medical Doctors don't properly understand basic probabilities. Dr Diep, the author of this deplorable work, draw conclusions from too small a sample and INVENTS inference that are non scientific (I know : I read the whole work. It sucks.

    Posted by: Stupidity at Work | Jan 17, 2008 9:03:33 PM

  12. A lot of blue collar straight guys I know get big pusful boils that spew nasty stuff. They love to show and tell. They have to get them drained, put on antibiotics and are out for days. They are all allergic to soap and water. I think that is the bottom line on this stuff. Bathe or shower on a regular basis.

    Posted by: Himbo with Highlites | Jan 17, 2008 9:20:37 PM

  13. I'M quite sure a more competent scientific panel will destroy the so called academic value of the study these guys (Diep and al.) published. To my amateur eye, it looks weak and some bits are obviously non valid from a scientific point of view. In methodology they write : sexual behavior is not documented. But they go on infering it's sexually transmitted even though their MSRA affects buttocks and genital areas only in 25% of cases...(but they want it so much to be sexualy transmited). Also they document as men having sex with men only those who have annal sex (and because they have anal smear test in hospitals/clinics). So according to Dr Diep all the cute allegedly str8 dudes who suck my dick are well inside the parameters of the Clinton jurisprudence: It is not Male to Male sex to suck dick. Dr Diep wrote it: only anal sex counts. Everything else is not Gay, it's only fun dudes, lets do it!

    Posted by: Judge Dredd | Jan 17, 2008 9:24:56 PM

  14. Sorry the population of Castro is 30,545, not 25,545. So the total number of affected person s according to the ',study'' numbers is 52. Which is 30,545/588. Or one in 588 applied to 30,545.

    Posted by: Stupidity at work | Jan 17, 2008 9:29:29 PM

  15. sorry, Jordan, but there's just no excuse for that attitude. it's stupidity, irresponsibility, and selfishness. it's behavior (and attitudes) like that that's responsible for the resurgence of new HIV infections, as well as other STIs that should have been wiped out long ago like syphilis.

    you need to grow up and take the tiniest bit of responsibility for yourself. otherwise, with that attitude, it's pretty likely you'll find yourself facing HIV drug regimens and stigma for the rest of your life, and WORSE, in the mean time exposing all your partners to that same risk.

    the "heat of the moment" excuse is completely lame and doesn't hold water. you know exactly what you are doing, unless you are really drugged out, in which case you absolutely should not be having sex. you're just acting like a stupid child who doesn't want to face the fact that actions have consequences.

    so next time, remind yourself of two things: 1) it only takes one unsafe sexual encounter to leave you with a lifelong terminal disease (no, AIDS has not been cured), and 2) you can have an STI with no symptoms, meaning you could transmit it to everyone of your partners. then take the fucking two seconds and put a condom on!

    Posted by: humanist | Jan 17, 2008 9:54:38 PM

  16. Jordan: >I s this really something I should be 'fraid of? I can barely remember stuff as it is, and when I've been drinking and horny, half the time I don't ask my bf's to use condoms.And it's not just a matter of being 'stupid' or dumb or whatever. Sometimes you just are in the moment and don't care or carried away or whatever to use protection....and SOMETIMES it's just hotter not to. That's all I'm saying.<

    And, Jordan, sometimes we are just lucky. And it's your life, and your risk to take. But just because it's "hot" doesn't make it prudent. And you are absolutely right that people, in the heat of the moment, are prone to be human and forget to be prudent. I mean, it's not like MRSA or AIDS or getting a sunburn immediately gives one the most awful consequence of disfigurement or cancer or death. And it's not like every encounter with a risky situation will result in eventual disfigurement, pain, cancer, or death.

    To answer your question: No, you don't need to be afraid. But taking precautions is prudent if you are not up to the consequences. The thing is, very few people end up being up to the consequences when they actually occur. It's rarely just "take a pill" and all is once again right and rosy. It's all well and good to think that the worst won't happen to us (in fact, every day that we don't have a first-hand experience with a negative consequence reinforces our belief that it won't ever happen) because living in fear is a huge waste of time and has deleterious effects, both physical and mental, on our lives.

    However. You won't live forever, and are not impervious. Choices you make, albeit human and understandable, may have consequences. It's not for me, or anyone, to judge. But it sure seems a shame to risk a life for an orgasm, as you seem to suggest is an understandable risk. I used to take that risk. I don't anymore. I've lost too many people to the consequences.

    Posted by: JT | Jan 17, 2008 10:11:34 PM

  17. In spite of what christian scum say this it's not a report about a ‘gay’ disease, its Sicko redux. These infections are the price we pay for a system that puts ‘cost/benefit analysis’ ahead of patient survival. They’re not gay infections; they’re NOSOCOMIAL infections; infections acquired in a healthcare setting. MRSA (Invasive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), VRE (Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus) and VRSA and all examples of bacterial infections spreading out of control because of nonexistent or inadequate bacteriological control measures in hospitals, urgent care centers and nursing homes. They show up in surgical wound, respiratory, genitourinary, and GI tract infections and they are killers. 19,000 Americans died in 2005 from MSRA infections, mostly in hospitals and nearly 90,000 people have been infected.

    The bacteria that cause these infections are everywhere and they're readily spread in conditions or crowding, intimacy and especially in heath care facilities. Most of the nosocomial infections originate r in hospitals etc. and are directly caused by bad planning which results in medical staffs using sloppy or nonexistent adherence to basic hygiene practices like hand-washing, cleaning of facilities and devices, and training in the best way to insert invasive devices like IVs and catheters.

    Two new drugs may prove effective when vancomycin, methicillin and cloxycillin resistant forms spread. They are Linezolid, part of a new class of synthetic antibiotics with the trade name Zyvox and a class of broad range antibiotics called carbapenems. The danger is that these hospital administrator caused infections will spiral deeper into the general population. In congested areas that could lead to the death of many children, the elderly and people with immune suppression questions.

    You have to wash your hands for a minimum of 15 seconds using hot water and a bactericidal soap or use an alcohol swab to completely wash them after touching any surface in a medical setting, gym or similar facility.

    We need socialized medicine and stringent hygiene regimens to get a handle on this and the Democrats (sic) and Republicans who are bought and paid for by HMO's, the AHA and insurance companies are part of the problem, not the answer. In particular Hillary Clinton has received over $1,000,000 in contributions from the medical industry and that will buy a lot of ‘deregulation’ which translates into increased mortality rates and profit rates. Between the years of 2001 and 2005 health insurance industry reported profits of $38 billion--enough to provide insurance for an entire year for 12 million Americans.

    Posted by: Bill Perdue | Jan 17, 2008 10:32:54 PM

  18. gonna have to disagree with JT here. you say it's not for you or anyone to judge. that's where you're wrong, because it IS for us to judge, when a person's behavior subjects other people to risk.

    you could make an argument that certain self-destructive behaviors (like eating an unhealthy diet) are an individual's choice and shouldn't be judged no matter how stupid. however, having unsafe sex with multiple partners puts all of Jordan's partners at risk for diseases Jordan may not even know he's carrying. damn right we should judge that.

    embracing freedom doesn't mean you get to do whatever the hell you want, at whatever cost to those around you. you need to learn that your actions have consequences not just for yourself but for others. when we're talking about something as prevalent and terminally life-altering as HIV, then it's serious.

    Posted by: humanist | Jan 17, 2008 10:34:03 PM

  19. Ok, thanks guys.
    I kinda get what you're saying, 'tho you've used too big of words for me yet again, and I don't feel like writing them down & looking them up on google (too much like homework...sorry).

    I will 'try' to be more careful, but when I'm drinkin' and all hot & stuff with a hot guy, sometimes it's REALLY hard to always play safe (also really boring). Life is just not fair. Why can't we just screw without worrying about this stuff? There are SO many hot guys out there!!!

    Posted by: Jordan | Jan 17, 2008 10:37:37 PM

  20. sorry Jordan, i still don't buy it. just carry condoms with you in your pocket, and they'll always be right there. it does NOT take long to put one on (and if your partner is unwilling to, you need to say NO immediately because that makes him all that much more likely to be carrying stuff you do NOT want).

    sure, life isn't fair. we all know this. but seriously, if THIS is the least fair thing in your life, then consider yourself incredibly incredibly blessed.

    Posted by: humanist | Jan 17, 2008 11:01:25 PM

  21. Too little, too late. The original report was the stuff of front page news; these kind of clarifications only get printed on page E17, if at all. THAT's why you have to say it right the first time.

    Posted by: lia | Jan 17, 2008 11:05:42 PM

  22. Isn't one of the paths to transmission skin-to-skin? Maybe homos have it the most because we're so affectionate and hug each other a lot. :)

    Or it could be all the sex... >_>

    Posted by: kybarsfang | Jan 18, 2008 12:17:21 AM

  23. Other documentation on the resistant forms of Staph indicate that gyms and lockerrooms provide excellent conditions for transmitting it -

    having lived in SF for years and noticed that working out at the gym is an essential part of life for many gay men - and thinking about all of the surfaces one comes in contact with without thinking about it -

    It seems likely that just gym use could account for much of the results quite well - including infections on the part of one's body that one sits with.

    Posted by: Eric | Jan 18, 2008 12:44:27 AM

  24. What's amazing to me is the way that some people are talking about this study as if its findings are foregone conclusions. Instead of all this fingerpointing, let's get some expert opinions on how this story was reported in the media and how the study itself was done.

    I am always appalled at the scaremongering whenever mainstream news reports the latest doomsday bug. Is the Reuters article really any different from how HIV, SARS, or Avian Flu were first reported? Sure these are all serious illnesses, but the regular flu still kills more Americans every year, there's a vaccine for it, and it barely makes the headlines. If you were to do a study on hospital workers, you'd probably find lots of MRSA, but I doubt any researcher or reporter would imply that your physician or nurse could be a Typhoid Mary.

    As for the study itself- I would like to read it for myself. The quote from Diep sounds homophobic and inflammatory, but could be taken out of context. Also, did the study actually ask about sex practices or was Diep just talking out of his *ss? Was this strictly a prevalence study (which by design cannot prove causation)? How did they control for antibiotic use, immune compromise, or even exposure through gym equipment (which might add bias towards more MRSA)? How was MSM (men who have sex with men, which can include men who identify as straight) defined in the study?

    Soapbox moment: We really need better science education at all grade levels. Maybe then people will learn how to responsibly report and read scientific studies.

    Posted by: walk4me | Jan 18, 2008 2:36:16 AM

  25. here you go, WALK4ME:

    you might have to be at a university to have access to the article, but hopefully it will at least let you read the abstract.

    i'm not an epidemiologist, but the study looks methodologically sound tome. yes, they did specifically take sexual histories from the patients, and the statistical finding was that having male-male sex was a significant risk factor for drug resistant infection (making such patients about 13 times more likely to have one). another point covered in the text which i did not see in the mainstream press coverage is that the site of infection was commonly the genitals, buttocks, or perineum. eww--and certainly fits the hypothesis of male-male contact transmission.

    especially given the common areas of infection (which are not typically exposed to just anyone), the gist of the paper seems to have nothing to do with gay guys being a risk to the general population. it's rather a warning that gay guys need to be careful, because they themselves are at abnormally high risk in these particular neighborhoods.

    it's kind of a no-brainer not to bump and grind with someone who has open wounds or other obvious skin stuff going on, but guys (especially castro guys) would do well to exercise a bit more caution than usual. beyond regular precautions, i'd recommend toning down the promiscuity a bit (or a lot!) and maybe heading into the shower for a mutual scrub-down (and to check for signs of infection) before getting down to business.

    Posted by: humanist | Jan 18, 2008 3:34:53 AM

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