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Posts for May, 2008

Straight Convention Workers An Epicenter For Potentially Deadly Norovirus

Jim Burroway

May 10th, 2008

It was just last January when the San Francisco Chronicle stoked fears over a new “gay plague” in their article about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA), a bacterial staph infection that is resistant to certain antibiotics. An article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine documented an outbreak of MRSA in the Castro, which lead anti-gay activists to falsely accuse gay men of spreading MRSA from the gay community into the straight community. The only problem with that charge is that MRSA had been making its rounds among heterosexuals for several decades. Ironically, athletes are at particularly high risk.

The Chronicle headline that started that hysteria read:

S.F. gay community an epicenter for new strain of virulent staph

Today, San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis noticed that this morning’s Chronicle headline about an outbreak of a potentially deadly norovirus among straight workers is very different:

Moscone Center workers sickened by norovirus

San Francisco public health officials are warning of an outbreak of a virus that has sickened dozens of people at Moscone Center.

About 70 people who fell ill had been at the Moscone Center between April 30 and Thursday, authorities said Friday. All but three were staff members working at the convention center, said Moscone spokesman David Perry.

NorovirusMichael Petrelis observes that while the MRSA story in January hyped fears of a dreaded disease in the gay community infecting the “general population,” this story is being treated by some news outlets as a light-hearted, low-key tech story (this norovirus epidemic started during a JavaOne tech conference) aimed at calming fears rather than stoking them. He noticed that CNET’s coverage was downright adolescent:

To clarify, this is a virus that makes you barf and gives you diarrhea. It’s not the kind of virus that sends Viagra-pitching e-mails to all your friends or treats you to a Rick Astley sing-along every time you turn on your computer.

No, you won’t drop dead from it. Norovirus is better known as one of the viruses that causes a nasty stomach flu. Symptoms only last about a day or two, but it’s highly contagious. Just to up the gross-out factor: Norovirus is found in the fecal matter or vomit of people who are infected. If they don’t wash their hands properly, they spread it when they handle food or drinks.

What a difference. When it was gays coming down with MRSA, headlines screamed, “New Superbug Hitting Gay Men” or “Flesh-eating bug spreads among gays.” This time, it’s “Did you get infected? Virus runs amok amid JavaOne.”

The norovirus is passed exactly the same way as MRSA — by people who don’t wash up. And get this: fecal matter is a culprit. That detail is an anti-gay activist’s wet dream. I wonder when Matt Barber and Peter LaBarbera will exploit this latest danger coming from the heterosexual community.

[Hat tip: Michael Petrelis]