Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shock horror, superbug fears greatly exaggerated

[Thanks to aidsmap for this major reality check!]

"Strain of Superbug may be new HIV" was a headline in Metronewspaper that grabbed the attention of commuters across the UK yesterday.

A study finding a high prevalence in gay men in San Francisco of a strain of community-acquired MRSA with resistance to many types of antibiotics received widespread media attention. Many of the men with this strain of MRSA were HIV-positive.

It isn’t the first study to find that HIV-positive gay men have a high prevalence of community-acquired MRSA and there’s some evidence that transmission is occurring during the close physical contact that happens during sex.

People with HIV may be more vulnerable because of their high use of antibiotics and their risk of suppressed immunity.

But gay men and people with HIV aren’t the only groups affected by community-acquired MRSA.

Heterosexual transmission has been reported.

What’s more, there’s good evidence that the infection occurs more frequently in groups the media often likes to praise – such as athletes and military personnel.

And a lot of what was said about the new strain of MRSA was misleading or inaccurate.

It isn’t the “new HIV.”

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) can cause very unpleasant symptoms, such as skin boils, and can in extreme cases cause a fatal form of pneumonia, but there are, in fact, antibiotics that can cure it.

Simple washing with soap and water after close physical contact (even after sex between men!) is enough to prevent infection in most cases.

And although the infection occurred more frequently in gay men in an area of San Francisco, it occurs in the general population.

It is important that people are told about potential health concerns. But the information provided needs to be accurate and measured. Much of the reporting in this case was alarmist and homophobic. And the wording of the press release that went out to the media wasn’t helpful, a reminder to investigators and publicity departments of the importance of sticking to the facts and avoiding sensation when presenting findings to the media and public.


**Click the CDC's flyer on MRSA.

Flyer highlights - "Anyone can get a Staph infection. People are more likely to get a Staph infectionif they have:
-Skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a Staph infection
-Contact with items and surfaces that have Staph on them
-Openings in their skin such as cuts or scrapes
-Crowded living conditions
- Poor hygiene"

**Click for the New York State's Dept of Health's guide to prevent MRSA.

**Click for more LifeLube posts on MRSA.

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