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May 25, 2005

UK Media in Frenzy Over Marine's Death by MRSA-PVL Infection

Still pumped from MRSA-infection debates during the recent election cycle, it took little time for the UK media to hype the news that a Royal Marine died from a rare MRSA strain last year during commando training.

And in so doing, to apply the usual MSM formula for catastrophe coverage:

1. Impart and/or Stoke Fear
"Marine death sparks fears of incurable new superbug," screamed the online news.telegraph. The "lede" didn't let up:
Fears that a new superbug is taking hold in Britain emerged yesterday after a Royal Marines recruit was found to have died suddenly from an infection with no known cure.

Richard Campbell-Smith, 18, died three days after the lethal toxin, which is linked to MRSA, entered his body through a scratch in his leg.

Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) is so virulent that only a quarter of people in whom the infection spreads to the chest survive.

The coroner investigating Mr Campbell-Smith's death was so worried about an outbreak that she is writing to the chief medical officer.

2. Blame Authorities for Inaction
a. Go after government
The Times Online issued a "call to action:":
Urgent action is needed by the Government to combat deadly new superbugs that kill healthy young people, a disease expert gave warning today.
Dr Mark Enright, a Bath University expert who is studying the disease, called on the Government to set up an active monitoring system, where all suspicious cases must be referred to the Health Protection Agency laboratories in Colindale, London. At present it is left to hospitals to decide whether to submit swabs for testing.

Advice should be issued to all parents warning them to make sure that they sterilise cuts and grazes on their children's skin and cover the wound with a plaster, he urged. He criticised the Government for failing to take a lead on the subject.

"So far the Government is just saying that the infection is really rare and not to worry. But that is not good enough," Dr Enright told Times Online.

"The Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) strains are already becoming a very serious problem in the US. A doctor working in a Chicago children's hospital has reported that the majority of the staph infections treated there are now PVL-producing strains."

b. Imply lack of competence and/or compassion gravely noted that "Training of Royal Marines will not change following the death of a teenage recruit infected with an MRSA-linked toxin, the Royal Navy said...."

3. Bring it Home: Find/Highlight Scary Real-life Experiences
Scoring a two-fer by focusing on both the human-interest and nosocomial angles, Lifestyle Extra tracked down a "superbug mum" who said "I feel lucky to be alive" after surviving an MRSA-PVL infection she picked up at the maternity ward of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.

Emma Lynch " is convinced one the many nurses who helped may have passed on the disease that she in turn gave to her baby. Mrs Lynch also believes the same reason lies behind up to nine other mums contracting the same infection in the maternity unit."

4. Relegate Practical Advice to a Sidebar
The news.telegraph advised that in this case, Marine Richard Campbell-Smith -- remember him? -- could have saved his life with some common sense:
Dr Tim Wyatt, from the Association of Clinical Microbiologists, said: "If he had cleaned it up properly early on and put a bit of antiseptic cream on it he would have been OK.

"But of course as he was a Royal Marine - he's not going to worry about a wee scratch. For a young, healthy Marine to die from a preventable infection is very scary."

I'm as concerned about MRSA-PVL as the next person -- okay, maybe more so, since I'm writing this blog called Zap*Germs. But for now, it looks like media hysteria will get regular folks nowhere.

The best course of action seems common-sensical: wash hands after getting them dirty or being in public, and use soap and an antibacterial cream on any cuts -- even little ones.

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