It seems everywhere I turn this week people are concerned about methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus , or MRSA . Patients ascribe random and vague symptoms such as fatigue and headaches to "the MRSA " and with media labels such as "flesh eating bacteria" and "super bug" the general population's panic is somewhat understandable. I go to a web site that is somewhat of a MySpace for aspiring writers called gather.com, and even among what one would expect to be somewhat of an intellectual audience there has been a sense of terror of the next contagion.
This week has been somewhat reminiscent of SARS from a few years ago and AIDS from a couple of decades ago. Before my time there were influenza epidemics and pandemics and the Black Death of the middle ages. Our history is filled with periods where unseeable microbes get the upper hand on us and let us know that they are still the ones in control.
Perhaps it is this loss of control that makes contagions impact our collective psyche so. We look for cause and effect where it is complicated or there is none present. We isolate and we quarantine . We shun and we blame. In our efforts to reassert ourselves and convince ourselves that we are the ones in charge we often make questionable decisions.
Unfortunately as long as bacteria reproduce every twenty minutes and we every twenty years, they bacteria, bugs, and the unknown will always evolve faster than we will.