The medical community has failed to contain it. Science has failed to develop new drugs to treat it. MRSA is “the most frightening epidemic since AIDS.”
“It was my intent to scare people,” admits veteran medical writer Maryn McKenna, speaking about why she wrote “Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA” (Free Press), her recently-released book about medicine’s war on methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus. “But I’m finding that it’s a little too scary,” she continues, clearly troubled that her effort to highlight the latest developments has the potential to make readers paranoid, not to mention paralyzed by fear. After reading “Superbug,” it’s easy to see why McKenna—referred to by colleagues as “scary disease girl” during her days covering the Centers for Disease Control for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution—is concerned about the fear factor.
For one, MRSA is no longer confined to hospitals. The pathogen is now out in the community-at-large, so even the strongest and healthiest individuals may find themselves afflicted, suddenly overcome by hideous infections that require emergency intervention. And thanks to antibiotic resistance there are only one or two drugs that are still effective against the most serious strains, so MRSA is often fatal. Never mind the fact that those lucky enough to survive a serious MRSA infection often find that it recurs again and again, causing (more) life-altering physical, emotional and financial pain.
With all this in mind, I spoke with McKenna—a contributing writer at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota—about how science and medicine has failed to fully address MRSA, and what will need to be done to get the epidemic under control.