Britain is in the grip of a new “flesh-eating bug spread by sneezes and coughs”, according to the front page of today’s Metro. The newspaper says that the bacteria are spreading across Britain, as they can be caught through people coughing and sneezing on crowded trains and buses.
This unsettling news put some of the Behind the Headlines team off grabbing their free copy of the Metro at the station this morning, not because of the fear of catching deadly germs from the paper, but because its report was alarmist and overblown. The basis of this news was a laboratory study that investigated why healthcare-acquired meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria rarely cause infections in healthy individuals. The study found that healthcare-acquired MRSA has a high level of antibiotic resistance, but that this property comes at a cost of reduced virulence (being less able to cause infection). Conversely, the study found that the type of MRSA that is usually caught in a community setting is more virulent, but weaker against treatment with antibiotics.