Groups Respond to Research That Links Drug-Resistant MRSA Strain to MSM Communities in Boston, San Francisco
Gay rights advocates and opponents recently responded to research that links a drug-resistant strain of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, to men who have sex with men in Boston and San Francisco, the New York Times reports. The study was published online recently in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the Times reports (McKinley, New York Times, 1/20).
For the study, Binh Diep, a researcher at the University of California-San Francisco, and colleagues reviewed the charts of 183 people treated for MRSA at San Francisco General Hospital's Positive Health Program, an outpatient program for HIV-positive people. They also reviewed the charts of an additional 130 people at Fenway Community Health clinic in Boston. The review found that MSM ages 18 to 35 were the most likely to have the infection. According to a statistical analysis based on ZIP codes, one in 588 people in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, which has the highest number of MSM residents nationwide, is living with MRSA, compared with one in 3,800 people across San Francisco. The study also found that MSM in San Francisco were 13 times more likely than other city residents to contract MRSA.
The study found MRSA spreads most often through anal intercourse but also can be spread through casual skin-to-skin contact or by touching contaminated surfaces. MRSA can cause abscesses and skin ulcers and can produce necrotizing facsiitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. The infection also can cause pneumonia, heart damage and blood infections. Among MSM in the study, MRSA was spread through skin-to-skin contact and caused abscesses and infection in the buttocks and genitals. The most effective way to prevent skin-to-skin transmission of MRSA is to wash with soap and water, particularly after sex, the researchers said (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/15).
According to the Times, the study "seemed to cast an unfair, and all too familiar, stigma" on MSM and "inadvertently offered ammunition" for gay rights opponents, including Concerned Women for America and Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. CWA on Wednesday issued a release that said the "sexual deviancy" of MSM has led to HIV/AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea. The group added that the "medical community has known for years that homosexual conduct, especially among males, creates a breeding ground for often deadly diseases." National gay rights groups in response labeled the reaction as "hysteria," and the study's authors on Friday issued an apology that said their press release "contained some information that could be interpreted as misleading."
Henry Chambers, one of the study's authors and a professor of medicine at UCSF, said, "We deplore negative targeting of specific populations in association with MRSA infections or other public health concerns." He added that the researchers were "looking at this from a scientific point of view and not projecting any political impact." Diep on Friday said he regrets not being more thorough in communicating the study's findings to reporters, adding that the term "general population" used in the study did not translate well. "It's really meant to be used to mean all inclusive, including the MSM population," he said.
CDC on Wednesday in a statement said that MRSA is not sexually transmitted or limited to a certain population. According to the statement, MRSA is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and is widespread in hospitals and among hospital workers (New York Times, 1/20).