So we've all been hearing about the gay outbreak of drug-resistant staph infections, same as we heard about multiple-drug resistant staph infections back in 2003. These kinds of infections have been a problem in medical settings for some time, but when a report comes out that attaches "gay" with "disease," everyone's certain to pay attention.
While much worry about staph infections has centered on gay men and possible sexual transmission -- and actual transmission routes for most of the cases have not been determined -- the larger concern would actually be one that doctors and medical professionals have been warning the public about for years now: the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which leads to resistant strains of many disease causing bacteria. Many fear that the development of resistant bacteria may soon outpace the development of new antibiotics.
Think about that the next time you ask your doctor for some antibiotics because you got the sniffles.
Just a couple of things to keep in mind about the current Reuters story. Gay men in San Francisco are "13 times more likely to be infected than their heterosexual neighbors" -- well, it's scary depending on how likely their neighbors are to be infected. If those "neighbors" have only a slightly greater than non-zero risk, than the elevated risk of a subset of gay men isn't something to panic over. Pay attention to, yes, but not panic.
What's interesting is that 19,000 Americans died in 2005 from MSRA infections, mostly in hospitals, but it's when someone suspects it's spread through gay sex that the warnings go out. But I get really pissed when I read quotes like this from the doctor who led the study, Binh Diep: "Once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable."
Um, sorry to point this out, but when 19,000 people are dying, mostly in hospitals, from staph infections and 95,000 cases of infection are showing up annually, it's already in the general population. It's not a question of gay men having sex or physical contact -- it's a question of the rampant misuse and over-prescription of antibiotics. But instead of facing up to those facts, what we'll have is another rash of stories like 2003, where local television stations send camera crews to gyms and talk ominously about the sexual behavior of gay men.
Since your basic bar of soap is an effective preventative measure, everyone should stay calm and take a shower. And don't take antibiotics unless you need them.