Remember that awful headline back in January of 2008?
“S.F. gay community an epicenter for new strain of virulent staph.”
It began with a San Francisco Chronicle article by Sabin Russell, which in essence “reported” on a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine related to a MRSA study, which resulted in widespread misinformation and fear of a “pandemic,” which could magically spread from gay men in the Castro to the “general population” (of which gay men were supposedly not included).
Binh An Diep, a researcher at San Francisco General Hospital and lead author of the report contributed to a UCSF press release that mischaracterized the results of the study, resulting in a global blizzard of sensational headlines, immediately seized upon by the likes of right wing groups, demonizing gay men, and endangering everyone else by its absurd implications that the virus was contained within the gay community, or could only be contracted through gay sex.
Whether an MRSA pandemic resulted seems unlikely, given how little attention has been given to the matter since. You would think.
But MRSA infections are not only on the rise, they’re even being linked to H1N1 (Swine Flu), and a new study by the Henry Ford Hospital's division of infectious diseases, released Sunday, relating to USA600 is alarming. As expected, being gay has nothing to do with neither the transmission nor incidences.
It seems the only real benefit of that initial press release, is that right wing and anti-gay organizations continue to use it as bona fide “evidence” of the “Health Effects of Homosexual Lifestyle,” as it relates to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
At the time, together with activists Michael Petrelis and the late Hank Wilson, we demanded that UCSF meet with us to help understand how they could have released such an ill-informed press release, and figure out what concrete and immediate steps they could take to ensure such a debacle never happened again.
The result of three independent activists demanding answers from UCSF in a face-to-face meeting, and who until then had only participated in the dialog by sending a representative to community meetings, resulted in some concrete action, and promises from UCSF.
Among those were the development of a database that would allow for easier access to accommodate interest in studies and results, even those not published, or terminated prior to conclusion, and the extent to which community relations and communications with the gay community could serve as an across-the-board template in managing other communities, particularly vulnerable populations, such as children, women or prisoners. Soon after our meeting, in which UCSF also agreed to release a retraction, they did.
Chronicle reporter Sabin Russell told SF Weekly, “…as for not responding to the UCSF 'retraction' — that was a clarification of a press release, not a retraction of the article. If UCSF retracts the [research] paper, that would be news.”
Owing to the extent to which the original misinformation continues to be disseminated, I am bringing attention to it again, including video of my testimony before the Board of Supervisors, (in which I refer to Sabin Russell, apparently present at the hearing, as a “transcriber” and the Chronicle’s atrocious coverage of this story).
Today I sent a letter to UCSF to see what, if any, steps have been taken since our meeting. Specifically, I requested follow up with the status of the following:
1. The internal task force that was set up, its findings in the wake of the MRSA fiasco, and the solutions implemented as a result of those findings.
2. The extent to which easier access to the database containing studies/results that would enable communities that may be impacted negatively to proactively protect themselves, and the extent to which, if at all, UCSF could/would help in identifying such studies.
The apparent dangerous rise of MRSA makes it worth reiterating the extent to which such idiotic reporting of a study did not only inspire a slew of homophobic headlines, but put at risk everyone who thought that the spread of the infection was unlikely to impact them. Like people who play sports, or go to the gym.
Imagine the difference in terms of audience awareness, sensationalism notwithstanding, had the headline read: "A new drug-resistant staph infection. Just how safe are your workouts at the local gym?"
In the meanwhile, I will keep you posted on what I learn from UCSF.