BBC News is reporting something that some have undoubtedly already heard about: that there is a new MRSA strain, USA300, which varies significantly from the MRSA strains we've seen in the past: it's acquired in the community, from skin to skin contact, and not hospital settings.
Up until now, hospitals have been the tried and true mode of infection with any of the multiple drug resistant bugs in our environment, and for decent reason: hospitals, for all their efforts at sterility, house the sickest of the sick, and prove to be breeding grounds for antibiotic resistance.
What's noticeable about USA300 is two things. First is the fact that it's transmitted in the community, by skin to skin contact. While this is generally sexual contact, any sort of prolonged contact with another's skin is enough for transmission, and there is already evidence that this high contact no sex transmission has taken place.
The second interesting thing is that reporting of MRSA USA300 has reminded me of the initial reporting of HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s, albeit on a larger scale. And it might just be my memory of the San Fran/Bay Area reporting filtered through multiple books, novels, and movies, but the tone of the articles - "new outbreak in San Francisco gay community", "gay men affected by new skin to skin disease", etc - is eerily familiar. And I can't decide how I feel about this. On the one hand, it's only responsible to make sure it's clear everyone knows whether or not they're in a vulnerable population group. But on the other hand, it seems like it's walking dangerously close to stigmatization, again. This is alleviated by the acknowledgment of casual, non-sexual skin to skin transmission, but that seems overshadowed by the general tone of the articles I've been reading.
Perhaps most of all, it's disappointing. I would have hoped that these 20-odd years later, people would have learned how to write about an emergent infectious disease without creating, intentionally or otherwise, a stigmatized population group to go with it.
I'm editing this some six hours after the initial post, because I wanted to put up a picture of the kinds of headlines I'm referring to, as well as a link to the Google News collection of these stories - all of which have a disturbingly similar theme in their headlines. Click on the image above to see them all.