Staph Strain More Virulent Than MRSA Infecting Gay Men

Posted on January 15, 2008
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As schools, prisons, and hospitals around the country struggle to prevent the spread of the superbug known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a virulent newer strain is making inroads into gay communities in San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles.

More drug-resistant than the MRSA seen in schools and gyms, infections caused by this type of staph can be very serious, and even lethal when not treated appropriately. Like other staph infections, it spreads through casual contact, including sports and sexual activity. It often presents as an abscess or cellulitis in the buttocks, genitals, or perineum.

Gay male residents of San Francisco were 13 times more likely to have the infection than other residents of the city, according to a study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday. In Boston, up to half of gay men with staph infections are afflicted with the more drug-resistant strain, the study reported. Multidrug-resistant MRSA is also more prevalent in people with HIV.

This new variant of MRSA is so resistant to treatment by antibiotics that precious few options are available to medical practitioners. It is resistant to clindamycin, tetracycline, and mupirocin, as well as methicillin. It also causes more virulent infections that grow and spread rapidly.

The paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicated that multidrug-resistant MRSA likely spread through sexual contact among the infected gay men that were studied. Spread of the multi-resistant staph among gay men was particularly associated with high risk behavior such as drug use and sex with multiple partners.

Researchers expressed a high degree of concern over the potential epidemic once multidrug-resistant MRSA spreads throughout the general population, cautioning that prevention is key. According to medical professionals, the best defenses against all types of staph infections are good hygiene and hand washing practices.

Another concern raised by the study is that multidrug-resistant MRSA may stigmatize gay men in much the same way that HIV/AIDS did in the 1980s. However, this pernicious superbug is not confined to gay males. For example, an 81-year-old woman in New York City was diagnosed with the infection, according to NPR’s All Things Considered program.

The full study, “Emergence of Multidrug-Resistant, Community-Associated, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Clone USA300 in Men Who Have Sex with Men,” is currently available on the Annals of Internal Medicine Web site.

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