Today’s Chicago Tribune reported a story about a drug resistant bacteria that seems to be spreading through black communities in Chicago, largely because of prisons, and over-crowding in housing projects. The report on the spread of the bacteria called MRSA comes from a new article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The Tribune Reports:
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a potentially virulent bacteria that doesn’t respond to several antibiotics used to treat common staph infections.
People struck by the bug frequently develop painful skin boils or abscesses and, in rare circumstances, deadly pneumonias, blood infections and other life-threatening conditions….
…Until the late 1990s, MRSA was found exclusively in hospitals. When Chicago researchers reported finding the bacteria in previously healthy, non-hospitalized children in 1998, they were met with disbelief. But after further investigation, it became clear that a new type of superbug, known as community-associated MRSA, had evolved.
According to the story, MRSA was a staph infection most likely found in hospitals. Hospitals, while they try their best (let’s just assume that) to be sterile places, bacteria do live and thrive in hospitals, and people do sometimes catch secondary infections while in the hospital for some other treatment. Somehow, the bacteria has migrated out of the hospital, and has since turned up in Cook County Jail, and then in the largely poor black West Side Chicago neighborhood.
Jails and prisons are horrendous places in general, and they certainly are places where infectious disease are apt to spread–large numbers of people living in close quarters that are often unsanitary, with little access to medical treatment and care.
Housing Projects are horrendous places in general, and they certainly are places where infectious disease are apt to spread–large numbers of people living in close quarters that are often unsanitary, with little access to medical treatment and care.
Am I saying that projects and prison/jails create somewhat similar conditions? Draw your own conclusions.
Also prisons/jails and lack of affordable and adequate housing have made for highly transient urban black populations. And instability /migrations drives the risk of all kinds of infectious disease, including HIV/AIDS. Not enough is made of the highly transient nature of black America, and its link to risk of all kinds of health problems (of which I include inter-community violence–people can act out violently against people for whom they don’t feel any connection or accountability).
The one thing I am a little leery of about this is that according the story, researchers have begun calling this new drug resistant infection “community-associated” MRSA. I understand that it is a new and more potent strain of the bacteria, but something about the phrase “community associated” can take on racial undertones about the nature of the infection, because it is mostly present in blacks.
In addition, the Tribune story refers to it as a “superbug” a term that the news media and health journalists (I think) ought to not be in the business of using. The media started calling the 2005 case of the NYC patient who had a multi-drug resistant (seemingly) rapid progression HIV infection as a “super-strain” or “super-bug” — which a recent article in the Journal of Infectious Disease proved to be a false claim. Though this patient was a white gay male, the media created this “superbug” story–without exercising the proper amount of skepticism, and unneccessarily further stigmatized gay men.
I am currently reading a new book by Harriet A. Washington called Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation On Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Washington has a great analysis of how diseases get racialized that bear some relevance in the danger of labeling things “community associated” and “superbugs.”