Tag Archives: mckenna

AHCJ members talk H1N1, grade the media

AHCJ member Dr. Mona Khanna and AHCJ board member Maryn McKenna , along with New Hampshire state epidemiologist Dr. Jose Montero and host Laura Knoy discussed H1N1 and the media on New Hampshire Public Radio Wednesday. Debate centered on the media’s performance thus far, as well as the role that it ought to play during an outbreak or pandemic.

A few salient points from their key exchange:

Montero started things off by saying that health care journalists will be critical to public health efforts and will be relied upon to inform the public and provide context.



McKenna gave the media a “C” grade for their performance to date, with the explanation that, after round upon round of layoffs, there may not be enough expert journalists left to fulfill the public health role envisioned by Montero. “All the people who would be counted on to know this subject … most of those people don’t work in the media anymore,” McKenna said. “You can’t count on the media any more as the people who can put the breaks on alarmism.”

Khanna agreed, saying that even experienced health journalists sometimes lack key scientific understanding and should consult with scientists or medical professionals.

McKenna talks about MRSA in pigs, farmers

In addition to the strains of MRSA that arose in hospitals and the community, there is one that seems to correlate pretty strongly with pig farmers and, in many cases, is present in both the farmers and their stock. Bonnie Powell, founder of The Ethicurian blog, interviewed journalist (and AHCJ member) Maryn McKenna about MRSA and the recent discovery in the Netherlands of a strain linked to commercial pork production.

Scanning electron micrograph depicts clumps of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
CDC/Janice Haney Carr

This 2005 scanning electron micrograph depicts clumps of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Magnified 9560x.

[The presence of a clear link between factory farms and human cases of the pig-linked MRSA ST398 strain] depends on your standards of evidence. MRSA ST398 has been found colonizing pig farms and pig farmers in the US, Canada, and in the European Union. You can argue about how prevalent it is — it’s easy to cast doubt on whether it is common, because not very many studies have been done. But you can’t argue that it is there.

The argument over whether ST398 in pigs is causing MRSA disease in humans is more subtle. It definitely has in the Netherlands, though not often so far. Has it done so in the US? No one has done the microbiology to tell.

As for the food supply, McKenna says it’s theoretically possible to contract MRSA from meat.

If MRSA ST398 is in pork — it’s been found in Canada and Europe, but not here yet — then the issue is not eating the pork (as long as you cook it), but rather handling it. It is possible that you could handle raw pork, unthinkingly touch your eyes or nose, and colonize yourself.

McKenna, who is writing “Superbug: The Rise of Drug-Resistant Staph and the Danger of a World Without Antibiotics,” urges better testing and monitoring of MRSA and the outbreaks thereof, and cautions that, even if they are not yet shown to harm humans, resistant drug strains are still a matter of public concern.

McKenna also wrote a comprehensive primer for AHCJ to help educate reporters about MRSA and the surrounding issues.

Prevention vs. treatment in global health

AHCJ members Christine Gorman and Maryn McKenna participated in a blog experiment, in which a group of people decide to blog about the same topic at the same time – similar to a blog carnival. The experiment, focused on global health and “prevention vs. treatment,” generated posts from a variety of viewpoints: