Uh Oh.

Researchers at University of California-San Francisco report that a deadly, drug-resistant staph infection has moved from inside hospitals and is now spreading among bi-coastal gay populations (gay men, to be precise). 

Right at the outset, let me give a huge  Shut The F*** Up to any idiot claiming to be a Christian who says this is God’s judgment on gays, gays are going to hell, etc.   Just so we’re clear on how I feel about all that nonsense.

This particular superbug is scary because it’s already killing thousands of people a year in the most sterile and rigidly controlled environment most of us ever encounter: hospitals.  Even the strongest antibiotics we have only work sometimes.  Now, the bug has found fertile ground—excuse me, but this is necessary—in the anuses of sexually active gay men, and it’s just a matter of time before it hits the general population.  And unlike HIV/AIDS, staph infections don’t confine themselves to bodily fluids for transmission: they can be spread through the air and any skin-to-skin touching.  Handshakes, passing papers, touching a clean-looking yet contaminated shop counter, you name it.   We’re talking about a disfiguring and/or deadly bacterial infection that could become a literal epidemic—you know, like typhoid or smallpox, not the pseudo-epidemics we declare every other day to describe the results of perfectly voluntary activities (e.g. the “epidemic” of obesity). 

Politically incorrect language ahead: 

It may be that the stereotype of gay men having disproportionate amounts of unprotected (read: dangerous) sex is, in fact, true, and this is why the gay population is acting as the vehicle for this MRSA into the general population.  Or maybe it’s just that there are few environments more conducive to breeding bacteria than a human rectum that is being as an, ahem, entrance when nature clearly designed it to be an exit.  Maybe (hell, most likely) it’s both. 

From the article:  “Incidence of MRSA is rising along with the resurgence of syphilis, rectal gonorrhea, and new HIV infections partly because of changes in beliefs about the severity of HIV and an increase in risky behaviors, such as illicit drug use and having sex that abrades the skin. . . .”

Whatever philisophical or spiritual/moral implications we choose to attach, or not attach, to our sexual activities, what is clear is that there are devastating consequences to some of them: interestingly, germs and the human body do not conform to “progressive” ideals of unfettered sexual liberty and variety.  If this terrible bacterial infection continues to spread in people who choose risky sex, that’s hellish enough.  But for it to spread to the general population. . .intolerable. 

If the worst happens and this MRSA breaks loose, it will be interesting to see if our culture can summon the fortitude to engage in meaningful debate about the underlying causes and what it really means to live under a social contract (as opposed to a philosophy of Do Whatever The Hell You Want, No Criticism Allowed). 

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~ by lewdandlascivious on January 14, 2008.

9 Responses to “Uh Oh.”

  1. […] – Is Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) the new HIV?  The Queen of Swords had a good editorial on […]

  2. Well said.

  3. Why did it take a month of hearing about MRSA before I saw an article (in the SF Chronicle, no less) stating it was transmitted primarily by skin to skin contact between gay males during sex?

    Heh, no need to answer that one, I think I’ve already got an answer.

    The sad thing is, this PC-supported fear of telling the truth is actually inhibiting the tracking, treatment, and prevention of the bacterial infection.

    Let the truth come out of the closet (to borrow a euphemism) and set us all free.

  4. …and at risk of sounding awfully… um… deviant:

    Tell them to roll in honey. It’s a great multi-strength anti-bacterial which attacks the bacteria on so many fronts it has no chance of mutating to form a resistance to the treatment.

  5. You should read the latest press release from the CDC about this. This is a lot of paranoia, and homophobia, in the reporting on this issue. The primary groups affected by MRSA have been dorm room occupants, hospitals, and high-school football teams. And yet, none of those groups are being accused of rampant promiscuity. Truth be told, much of the outbreak in San Francisco may be related to gyms — not sex. A large percentage of the neighborhood being most affected are active gym-goers who use the same facilities.

    To protect yourself, please remember to wash your hands, with soap and water, frequently. If you use a gym, remember to spray the equipment BEFORE and after you use it.

  6. Mike,
    Thanks for your comment. I read the CDC report—the one published on Jan. 16, I’m assuming that’s the one you’re referring to—and it doesn’t address the issue of a particular demographic incubating the MRSA more than others. But the study I referred to, which appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is based on the actual medical records of infected individuals, and that study has isolated a particular demographic—gay men—as spreading the MRSA with significant rapidity (e.g., San Francisco gay men are 13 times more likely to be infected than others in the city: that is significant).
    A study based on actual medical records is a pretty reliable way to isolate where a germ is thriving and spreading. Such a conclusion can be proven true or untrue by superior evidence and analysis, but it’s certainly not “homophobic.”

    I would hope that no one would think that ONLY gay men spread staph infections: one of my points was that once it’s out there, it can be spread by any skin contact. The point of the study, and my post, was that a particular group seems to be functioning as the launching pad for its introduction into the general populace (gyms, bodegas, buses, etc.). Again, this observation is not homophobic. I recall the false accusations of homophobia surrounding the initial spread of AIDS, too (not that this is the same thing, yet). The effect of such talk was to encourage the group most at risk—gay men—to wave away facts and proceed as usual, and as a result, the virus spread virtually unchecked.

    Uncomfortable facts do not denote prejudice, although many prejudiced people certainly use such facts abusively. I do appreciate your comment for the reason that it reminds us not to Go There.

    The New York Times—hardly a bastion of homophobia—has cited the study and reported on it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/health/15infe.html?ref=science
    That article, obviously, was published one day before the press release by the CDC (which, I must say, carefully skates around this politically charged issue). At any rate, the CDC report does not address the study, let alone refute it.

    I suppose we will see how this all pans out. Perhaps the MRSA will be contained. But my points still stand. There seems to be an idea that sexual activity cannot carry destructive consequences, simply because some have decided that having whatever kind of sex one wants, whenever one wants it, is one of our most noble and untouchable “rights.” But germs don’t subscribe to philosophical beliefs.

    For the record, I am light years away from being homophobic (although I know you did not suggest I was!), and I seriously doubt that the reporters citing the study are, either.

    I certainly do not want to smear gays with a suggestion that they are all sluts. But like it or not, promiscuous sex is pretty rampant among gay men. That is based on my personal observation as well as that of every gay man I’ve ever known (and I know as many as possible–my blog name doesn’t include the word “Queen” for nothing!).

    If you see any other relevant articles or studies, please post them here if you get a chance: It provides a good balance and I welcome the information.

  7. I appreciate your response but I still feel that are a few things wrong with your logic. The statistic that “gay men are 13 times more likely to have MRSA” is based upon 100 cases on one street in San Francisco. If you’ll check the study again, it was based upon zip codes. The zip code for the Castro District has a higher rate of MRSA. But again, you would expect the Castro to be an atypical sample of San Francisco or gay men. You certainly wouldn’t take Bourbon Street in New Orleans as an accurate sample of that city or heterosexuals.

    Also, given that this “outbreak” is among just over 100 people it is far too soon to draw any conclusions about how it was initially spread. I think that that was the reason why the CDC made a press release after those articles appeared in the Chronicle and the New York Times. You cannot base a theory on how a pathogen was spread based upon 100 cases on a street in San Francisco. This could simply be an outbreak related to a gym or other facility (MRSA was confined to high school football teams and dorm rooms until now). To draw conclusions about behavior, or anything else, is far too premature.

    We should react with this news in the same way that we do when MRSA appears in other places. At the university I work for, we had a very bad outbreak of MRSA. We advised people to wash their hands frequently and spray down machines at the gym before and after you use them. We did not, however, accuse any of our college students of promiscuity or being irresponsible for contracting a communicable disease.

  8. Matthew,
    Rolling in honey—what a delicious idea! I might just lay down a tarp and try it myself. (Kidding!!) 🙂
    I agree with you about the immediate accusations of homophobia whenever one notes the prevalence of promiscuity among gay men, which is hardly a hidden thing, or points out that the spread of certain communicable diseases might be connected to opportunistic or unprotected sex.
    Homophobia is an attitude. Facts are not homophobic.
    This is obviously a response to Mike’s comments, too. Mike disagrees with the findings of the study pointing out that this particular MRSA is getting a foothold in the gay communities of San Francisco and a few other cities. There is definitely room for disagreement about those findings and certainly, the MRSA I posted on is, at this point, just a really scary POTENTIAL epidemic. But I find it absurd to ignore even nascent public health threats in order to avoid offending someone—anyone. If there is well-founded evidence that a deadly and disfiguring staph infection is finding its way into the wider population by way of identifiable acts of any group, gay or not, it should be pointed out. At the very least, it is a warning to the group most likely to be infected: in this case, gay men in certain neighborhoods. I take Mike’s comments as cautioning not to attach condemnation of gays to such observations. I couldn’t agree more.

    But as for “accusing” people of being promiscuous, it’s a bit laughable to suggest that promiscuity is a myth in the urban neighborhoods that are the focus of the debated study.

    I for one have no problem accusing someone of being irresponsible if they contract and spread a highly communicable disease through sexual promiscuity. That goes for straight people too. Mike’s points are well-taken, however, in that they are a reminder that no one can be entirely sure at this point with regard to this particular staph breakout. And regardless of how it might get there, once it finds it way into the general population, people should take the precautions Mike listed.

  9. “At the very least, it is a warning to the group most likely to be infected: in this case, gay men in certain neighborhoods.”

    It in on this point which we disagree. Up until now, the group most likely to spread MRSA have been high school football players — not gay men. Remember that there are some 200,000 infections of MRSA each year, with 16,000 deaths. Something like 30% of the population already has MRSA bacteria living in their nasal passages. They remain uninfected because both the skin inside their nose, and their immune system, are able to ward it off. It simply defies logic, and science, to claim that this is an “STD” or particularly spread by gay men. The point being, we should all be concerned about MRSA.

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