Research Links Drug-Resistant MRSA Strain To MSM Communities

Armen Hareyan's picture

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus

Gay rightsadvocates and opponents recently responded to research that links adrug-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 publishedonline recently in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the Timesreports (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 183people treated for MRSA at San FranciscoGeneral Hospital's Positive Health Program, an outpatient program for HIV-positive people. They also reviewed thecharts of an additional 130 people at Fenway Community Health clinic in Boston. The review found that MSM ages 18 to35 were the most likely to have the infection. According to a statisticalanalysis based on ZIP codes, one in 588 people in San Francisco's Castroneighborhood, which has the highest number of MSM residents nationwide, isliving with MRSA, compared with one in 3,800 people across San Francisco. Thestudy also found that MSM in San Francisco were 13 times more likely than other cityresidents to contract MRSA.

The study found MRSA spreads most often through anal intercourse but also canbe spread through casual skin-to-skin contact or by touching contaminatedsurfaces. MRSA can cause abscesses and skin ulcers and can produce necrotizingfacsiitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. The infection also can cause pneumonia,heart damage and blood infections. Among MSM in the study, MRSA was spreadthrough skin-to-skin contact and caused abscesses and infection in the buttocksand genitals. The most effective way to prevent skin-to-skin transmission ofMRSA is to wash with soap and water, particularly after sex, the researcherssaid (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 offeredammunition" for gay rights opponents, including Concerned Women for America and Americans for Truth AboutHomosexuality. CWAon Wednesday issued a release that said the "sexual deviancy" of MSMhas led to HIV/AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea. The group added that the"medical community has known for years that homosexual conduct, especiallyamong 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 pressrelease "contained some information that could be interpreted asmisleading."

Henry Chambers, one of the study's authors and a professor of medicine at UCSF,said, "We deplore negative targeting of specific populations inassociation with MRSA infections or other public health concerns." Headded that the researchers were "looking at this from a scientific pointof view and not projecting any political impact." Diep on Friday said heregrets not being more thorough in communicating the study's findings toreporters, adding that the term "general population" used in thestudy did not translate well. "It's really meant to be used to mean allinclusive, including the MSM population," he said.

CDC on Wednesday in a statement said that MRSA isnot sexually transmitted or limited to a certain population. According to thestatement, MRSA is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and is widespread inhospitals and among hospital workers (New York Times, 1/20).

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