Health officials at Washington, D.C.'s Whitman-Walker Clinic are warning doctors who treat gay men that a recent breakout of drug-resistant staph infections among gay and bisexual men may be caused not only by sexual contact but also through shared drug paraphernalia, the Washington Blade reports. Staph can transmitted by sharing straws, spoons, or other devices used to inhale drugs through the nose because many people carry staph bacteria in their nasal passages. Most of these people never develop the related skin infections because the virus remains dormant, but it can become active when transmitted to another person. The bacteria also can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
Staph outbreaks among gay and bisexual men have been reported in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York City, Atlanta, Washington, and Boston. Most of the infections have occurred among HIV-positive men, but otherwise healthy men also have been treated for drug-resistant staph infections.
The large, painful skin infections are caused by a drug-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus. 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, and steam rooms. 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 outbreaks, 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.
A fact sheet available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends as the best steps to avoid staph infections: regular hand washing with soap and water, keeping cuts and abrasions covered until healed, using a moisturizer on dry skin to prevent cracking, and avoiding contact with other people's wounds or material that touched their wounds.