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.

Posted January 17, 2008 at 6:25pm ETC by Andy Towle
in Health, News