Some conservative groups are alleging that news of a microbe resistant to multiple drugs and found disproportionately among homosexual men is being suppressed due to hostile “politically correct” reactions, Cybercast News Service reports.
Researchers recently announced the discovery of a new form of MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an infection that is 13 to 14 times more prevalent in homosexual men than the general population.
"These multi-drug resistant infections often affect gay men at body sites in which skin-to-skin contact occurs during sexual activities," said Binh Diep, the University of California-San Francisco scientist who led the team that isolated the new strain of MRSA. Their study was published two weeks ago in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Matt Barber, director of cultural policy for Concerned Women of America (CWA), said after “pretty solid” initial reporting of the outbreak, news coverage began to change when conservative groups like CWA began noting the microbe was spread primarily through male homosexual activity.
"The real story here is the way that the media have whitewashed this outbreak," Barber told Cybercast News Service. "It is amazing to see what they've done with this."
"The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other organizations began to jump up and down a bit and scream, and The New York Times and other organizations started to backpedal," Barber said. Rather than reporting the behaviors associated with the outbreak and its danger to others, Barber said, "The story now became about how groups like mine were supposedly misrepresenting the outbreak as some sort of 'new gay plague' or 'the new AIDS' - things we never said."
The homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign accused CWA and others of being “anti-gay bigots” for recommending homosexual men curtail their sexual activities.
"Serious medical issues deserve serious consideration, not wildly off-the-mark press releases from anti-gay groups trying to capture media attention," HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a news release. Solmonese called the conservative organizations’ responses a kind of “hysteria,” which he thought resembled some reactions to the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s.
The reaction of activist groups prompted an apology from the University of California at San Francisco, distancing itself from mentioning homosexual men.
"We regret that our recent news report (1-14-08) about an important population-based study on MRSA USA300 with public health implications contained some information that could be interpreted as misleading," the university's Web site said, according to Cybercast News Service.
"We deplore negative targeting of specific populations in association with MRSA infections or other public health concerns, and we will be working to ensure that accurate information about the research is disseminated to the health community and the general public," it added.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also emphasized that the new MRSA strain is "not a sexually transmitted disease in the classic sense," saying the bacteria’s spread could be stopped by washing hands and covering open wounds.
An internationally known infectious disease specialist, Dr. John Diggs, told Cybercast News Service that the outbreak was “especially troubling” because the microbe can spread to the wider community.
Though MRSA has typically been confined to hospitals, he said, "You can take something that was relatively isolated in a small place, and suddenly, when it spreads to the general population, things such as school wrestling matches, or football games or basketball games or other sporting events, can take on a specter - they can become deadly.”
Dr. Diggs said the university study itself said the MRSA infection manifests itself as "an abscess in the buttocks, genitals or perineum," concluding the microbe "probably started out in San Francisco, and has been disseminated by the frequent cross-coastal travel" of homosexual men between San Francisco and Boston.
"Men who practice anal sex, men who have promiscuous sex, men who have multiple partners in short periods of time are much more likely to spread this disease," he said to Cybercast News Service. "It's not because of who they are. It's because of what they do."
"When you face that reality, then you have to start taking a serious look and deciding that the best public health intervention is to discourage behavior that causes the infection to spread," Dr. Diggs said.