Real-life thriller 'Superbug' spreads the word on deadly MRSA epidemic - ATL Intel - Atlanta Magazine - Blog

Real-life thriller 'Superbug' spreads the word on deadly MRSA epidemic

Posted By: Richard Eldredge · 4/27/2010 9:14:00 AM
Most authors would cringe if adjectives like "frightening," "heart-rending" and "harrowing" were used to describe their latest tome.

Maryn McKenna, on the other hand, posts such reviews on her website.

Of course, this is the same woman who was affectionately known in the newsroom as "scary disease girl" during her distinguished stint as CDC reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Co-workers needing a quick consult often had to peer around the "Warning: Biohazard!" signs McKenna had cheerfully posted around her cubicle.

But on the scare scale, McKenna reaches Stephen King proportions with her latest critically acclaimed book, "Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA" (Simon & Schuster, $26).

In her review, Atlanta magazine book editor Teresa Weaver calls the book "scary and important."

McKenna is in town tonight to discuss and sign copies of "Superbug" at the Georgia Center for the Book in Decatur at 7:15 p.m. For details on the event, go to the non-profit's website.

With Michael Crichton-esque storytelling, McKenna pulls readers into a taut, real-life thriller, tracking the deadly pathogen formally known as methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus and how it is infiltrating our hospitals,  high school locker rooms, prisons and even our food supply.

This month, at the invitation of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the lone microbiologist in Congress, McKenna addressed two Congressional briefings on Capitol Hill. Slaughter has praised "Superbug," calling it "an important call to action."

Following their NPR interview together, McKenna even has "Fresh Air" host Terry Gross washing her hands more.

"At book-signings and on my website I keep hearing the same thing: 'I'm so glad you wrote about this. I thought I was the only one,'" says McKenna. "It's a bizarre reaction given that MRSA has affected so many people. To hear that people still feel so alone only validates writing about MRSA in the first place."

The presence of the pathogen  on American farms is also growing at an alarming rate. Noting that and the absence of new antibiotics being brought to market by pharmaceutical companies, Slaughter has introduced HR 1549, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act in an attempt to combat the problem.

"The animal piece of this puzzle is what is really lighting people up right now," McKenna explains. "There's a very scary line that can be drawn from agriculture to human illness and human health."

While she was researching "Superbug," McKenna was shocked to learn that her former AJC colleague, medical reporter Diane Lore nearly died following the birth of her daughter Emily in 2003 after picking up a "community strain" of MRSA in the hospital, one of the deadliest MRSA breeding grounds.

"Here was a woman who was a trained medical reporter and knew how to do everything right before a hospital stay," marvels McKenna. "I remembered thinking, 'If this can happen to Diane, what does that say about the rest of us?'"

Lore contracted MRSA after  a ravenous Emily chomped down during her inaugural feeding. Later, scrutinizing her own delivery videotape for clues, Lore observed nurses sticking their fingers into her newborn's mouth to stimulate a sucking reflex. And she noted that neither had changed gloves or washed their hands prior to the interaction.

Now fully recovered, Lore tells Intel: "Maryn's book highlights how serious a problem MRSA has become in Georgia and around the world. She captured the essence of my story and so many others, including those who were not as fortunate. I lived."

For more info on MRSA and "Superbug, visit McKenna's official book website.