'

Information lag turns deadly in MRSA case

The elite health care media, along with doctors and pharmacists, have been warning patients about MRSA for years. But it wasn't until this week's release of a CDC baseline study from 2005, with the headline number of 19,000 deaths, that the panic set in.

Fighting MRSA with Marmoleum flooring in hospitalsWhile I was getting my prescriptions renewed this morning my pharmacist made a point of showing me a poster that has been on his door, in front of patients' noses, for over a year now.

It was a warning about MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection now panicking the nation. (The picture is from an ad for a flooring material.)

The elite health care media, along with doctors and pharmacists, have been warning patients about MRSA for years. But it wasn't until this week's release of a CDC baseline study from 2005, with the headline number of 19,000 deaths, that the panic set in.

Now that panic is closing schools around the country. Every new infection sets off a new panic. And the reaction is much like Cleveland schools installing metal detectors after a recent school shooting. It's closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.

The MRSA horse is definitely out. Some 15% of current infections occur outside hospitals. The ways to slow the infection rate have been known for years. Wash your hands. Keep your personal stuff personal. Reduce your use of antibiotics, which are just making more bugs immune.

Getting people to heed warnings, to take action, often requires we escalate the danger in the popular imagination. We know that if we're constantly warning people they're going to tune us out, so a balancing act is required.

Without better guidance from the government and the leaders in the medical community, media outlets are on their own in deciding how and when to sound the alarm. They might sound it too early, as I noted earlier this week.

Or, as in this case, they might sound it too late.