MRSA Update: UCSF Creates Task Force To Study Overhyped Scare

Jim Burroway

February 7th, 2008

If you remember from last month, we saw the mainstream media and anti-gay extremists hype a study by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco by reporting that a “flesh-eating superbug” was sweeping the gay community and threatening to spread into the”general population.” This drug-resistant staph infection, known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has actually been spreading among straights for decades (especially among professional athletes and military personnel). But that didn’t stop the usual band of anti-gay extremists, who are never ones to be sticklers for truth or accuracy, to exploit the misery of others to blame gays for once again being a threat to the “general population” — all with their cynical brand of “love,” of course.

The hype eventually retreated somewhat — some members of the mainstream media took a deep breath and sought out some second opinions as UCSF offered a half-hearted apology. But that did little to clarify the situation, and the hype of the “flesh-eating superbug” has continued to take on a life of its own.

That’s why three local San Francisco activists, Michael Petrelis, Clinton Fein, and Hank Wilson, sought a meeting with UCSF to discussion the events of last month. That meeting took place on Tuesday, and Petrelis and Fein have reported the results. Here are some highlights:

The following people were present at the meeting: Barbara French, Associate Vice Chancellor, University Relations; Kieran Flaherty, Director of State Government Relations; Shane Showdon, Director of LGBT Resources; Aimee Levine, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, Beth Mooney, assistant to Barbara French and Dr. Chip Chambers, a scientist and professor involved in the MRSA study. …

The core problem presented by the press release was a misapplication of epidemiological terminology that implied that gay men were about to unleash a MRSA strain on the “general population” instead of acknowledging that the strain already exists in the “general population,” despite findings that it seems to have a higher preponderance among men who have sex with men.

This misconception was fueled by comments by one of the lead authors of the study, a postdoctoral scientist, Binh Diep, who expressed grave concern about “a potential spread of this strain into the general population.”

…UCSF was quick to acknowledge the boundaries breached by Binh Diep. As a postdoctoral scientist, while excited about communicating the findings of his study, and whilst genuinely hoping to communicate the information in the interests of promoting health, he was unequipped to recognize the extent to which his comments could be misconstrued….

…Ms. French acknowledged that an internal task force had been created in the wake of the MRSA fallout, to streamline and coordinate efforts between and among various departments relating to the dissemination of news and public communications. This is an important and significant development.

It looks like Peter LaBarbera’s the one who could use some fact-checking.

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