Tuesday, March 16, 2010

UCSF Gay MRSA Study Used
Retain FDA Blood Ban?

Remember all the turmoil and outrage in January 2008, when researchers at UCSF released a study on gays and drug-resistant staph infections, or MRSA? The UCSF press office responded to the gay community's concerns, and tried to undo the tremendous damage brought about by the university. The Bay Area Reporter noted:

San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis was among the first to raise his voice in criticism. He called the UCSF news release on the journal article "alarming," and noted in an e-mail to UCSF press contact Wallace Ravven, "You went out of your way to mention, four times, that gay men are not considered by UCSF to be members of the general population."

Within hours of receiving the complaint last Friday, the UCSF press office issued a statement expressing regrets that its initial release "contained some information that could be interpreted as misleading. We deplore negative targeting of specific populations in association with MRSA infections or other public health concerns." It pledged to do a better job.

Ravven sent his own apology to Petrelis, which was posted on the activist's blog. He explained, "The distinction that the release appeared to make between the gay population and the general population stems from epidemiological language, which includes everyone - gays, straights, etc. - in the 'general population.' But this clearly was not the context in which it appeared, which was unclear and unfortunate." [...]

Sure, many people and components at UCSF were contrite over their incredibly stigmatizing study and press release, and many university employees, gay and AIDS advocates and orgs, worked to limit the damage done.

However, two years later, despite UCSF's apology and lots of statements correcting their initial mistakes from the researchers, the MRSA mess created by the usually-respected and gay-friendly UCSF is now being used by hard-right conservatives to argue in favor of retaining the Food and Drug Administration ban on gays donating blood.

Over at the Right Side News site, editor Cliff Kincaid yesterday quoted conservative writer Dale O'Leary, who cites the UCSF staph infection study, among other reasons why the gay blood ban should continue:

Currently, she noted, "HIV infection rates among MSM continue to rise, particularly among young MSM. Other STDs are rampant among both those who are HIV positive and those who are HIV negative. An outbreak of syphilis was traced to men seeking sex on the Internet. There was an epidemic of MRSA - the so-called flesh-eating bacteria among MSM. There have been outbreaks of Shigella in several urban areas."

Why, it's as if all O'Leary and Kincaid and their colleagues need do to make their arguments favoring the gay blood ban is gather UCSF research or press releases, studies and quotes from San Francisco Department of Public Health about gay men and HIV or STDs from the past decade. Every problem mentioned above can be traced back to UCSF or SF DPH officials.

I don't believe it's possible, or even probably wise, to dismiss all the stigmatizing and sometimes questionable studies and alarmist news releases from UCSF and SF DPH on gays and diseases, especially blood-borne infections, and argue to the FDA that the ban should be lifted.

There is so much research from just those two SF institutions to justify the ban, it ain't funny. And if UCSF and SF DPH research isn't enough evidence to retain the ban, conservatives could always turn to UCLA's Sally Blower and her continuing research into HIV drug resistance in San Francisco.

As I've been saying for two months now, UCLA and its David Geffen School of Medicine math modeler Blower, maintain that gays in San Francisco are carelessly spreading drug-resistant HIV strains that are currently at epidemic proportions, and that the behavior and blood of gay men is "a great and immediate threat to global public health."

In case the conservatives don't read the full UCLA study, they can get the gist of the international threat gay sex and gay blood pose from the UCLA release on the study:

The researchers' model was able to explain this increase, said Justin T. Okano, the other co-first author on the study and a research associate in Blower's group.

"Our model showed that what is going on in San Francisco is very complicated — but in a nutshell, it is due to the bug, the drugs and sex," he said.

I'm not saying it's right or justified that those who want to retain the FDA gay blood ban use UCSF, UCLA or SF DPH research to make their arguments. At the same time, I don't see how it's possible to take into consideration all the research those entities have created and shared with the world in recent years, and say to the blood banks, "Gay blood is safe."

In the end, I believe the cumulative effect of all the gays and infectious diseases research from UCSF/UCLA/SF DPH is a pronounced and significant contributing factor arguing to retain the gay blood ban.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Relevant to your work on this issue, and on Sally Bower's work


"It’s science’s dirtiest secret: The “scientific method” of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions. Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.

Replicating a result helps establish its validity more securely, but the common tactic of combining numerous studies into one analysis, while sound in principle, is seldom conducted properly in practice.

Experts in the math of probability and statistics are well aware of these problems and have for decades expressed concern about them in major journals. Over the years, hundreds of published papers have warned that science’s love affair with statistics has spawned countless illegitimate findings. In fact, if you believe what you read in the scientific literature, you shouldn’t believe what you read in the scientific literature.

“There is increasing concern,” declared epidemiologist John Ioannidis in a highly cited 2005 paper in PLoS Medicine, “that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims.”"