A resistant strain of the "flesh-eating" MRSA bacteria is moving amongst gay men in San Francisco and Boston, giving health specialists sleepless nights.
An online study by journal Annals of Internal Medicine gives that the bacteria seemed to be spread most easily through anal intercourse. At the same time, casual skin-to-skin contact and touching contaminated surfaces are also reported as other sources whereby the bacteria can be picked up.
Unless microbiology laboratories are able to identify the strain and doctors prescribe the proper antibiotic therapy, it could be foreseen that the infection may spread among other groups and become a wider threat, warn the authors.
The researchers also observed that that the new strain seems to have "spread rapidly" in gay populations in San Francisco and Boston. It "has the potential for rapid, nationwide dissemination" among gay men, they add.
The study stemmed from an examination of medical records sourced from outpatient clinics in San Francisco and Boston and nine medical centers in San Francisco.
Incidentally, the Castro district in San Francisco has the highest number of gay residents in the country. One in 588 residents shows an infection by infected the new multidrug-resistant MRSA strain. This is against 1 in 3,800 people in San Francisco, says the statistical analyses based on ZIP codes.
A different part of the study found that gay men in San Francisco were about 13 times more likely to be infected than other people in the city.
As remedial measures, the researchers advise scrubbing with soap and water; probably the most effective way to stop skin-to-skin transmission, particularly after sexual activities.
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It was once spread chiefly in hospitals. But of late, a number of healthy people have acquired it outside hospitals.
The CDC states that nearly 19,000 people died in the United States from MRSA infections in 2005.
The symptoms of the infection include abscesses and skin ulcers. The bacteria can invade through the skin to produce something termed as necrotizing fasciitis, hence the term flesh-eating bacteria. It can also cause pneumonia and heart damage
Among gays, the study found, MRSA is spread by skin contact, causing abscesses and infection in areas like the buttocks and on the genitals.
According to author Dr. Henry F. Chambers, the new strain is resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat the earlier strains. It has a plasmid denoted as p USA03.
"This particular clone is resistant to at least three other drugs, clindamycin, tetracycline and mupirocin," Dr. Chambers says.
"In addition, the new strain is resistant to mupirocin, which has been advocated for eradicating the strain from carriers", he adds.