Drug-resistant staph outbreak spreads to Boston, Washington

BY Advocate.com Editors

March 01 2003 12:00 AM ET

Cases of drug-resistant staph infections that have cropped up among gay men in Los Angeles and San Francisco have now also been confirmed on the opposite coast, with cases reported in Boston and Washington, D.C. At least seven men in the District of Columbia have been diagnosed with the infection, with another five cases awaiting laboratory confirmation, two physicians told the Washington Blade. Three confirmed cases also have been reported in Boston during the last four months, the Dallas Voice reports.

In Los Angeles, more than 50 gay or bisexual men have been confirmed to be infected with the drug-resistant bacteria, and health officials in San Francisco estimate that there are as many as 300 gay and bisexual men in the city that are currently infected. Most of the men getting infected are HIV-positive, but otherwise healthy gay men also are contracting the infection, with at least 20% of the cases in Los Angeles occurring among HIV-negative men.

It's also likely the staph outbreaks have spread to other cities, say federal researchers. "We have been contacted about [drug-resistant staph] cases occurring in men who have sex with men in several cities outside California," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist Dan Jernigan told the Blade.

The large, painful skin infections are caused by a drug-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, most commonly known as staph, that is likely spread through skin-to-skin contact. Because many of the men being treated for the condition have had the sores on their buttocks, scrota, penises, and upper thighs, health officials believe the drug-resistant staph infections are being passed through sexual activity. Doctors treating the infection warn that it could be contracted at bathhouses, sex clubs, health clubs, steam rooms, and other warm, moist environments. Gay men with multiple sex partners also have been deemed at high risk for the infection.

Treatment typically involves antibiotics. However, the standard drugs used to treat staph infections are inadequate against the strain of bacteria causing the outbreak, and stronger, newer drugs must be used in their place. In some cases, patients have had to be hospitalized to receive intravenous antibiotics. There have been no reported deaths linked to the drug-resistant infections, but staph can be fatal if left untreated.

Health officials in Los Angeles County have begun an investigation into the staph outbreak there. They expect to have preliminary data by the end of April.

Tags: Health

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