A new, difficult to treat strain of Staph infection found in San Francisco gay men is likely to spread in Sydney as Mardi Gras tourists party, but experts say it’s already here and it’s not a “gay disease”.

A University of California, San Francisco study released this month found sexually active gay men in the area were 13 times more likely to be infected with the new highly antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria called MRSA USA 300.

But the study’s authors this week criticised the worldwide reporting, telling Newsweek it helped nobody for the strain to be labelled as a “gay disease” as MRSA strains were common among the military, sports players, and children.

The Australian newspaper’s headline, “Flesh-eating bug spreads among gays”, was singled out in the criticism.

The university apologised following complaints from US gay activists that gay men were being stigmatised.

“It’s not a gay plague, it’s not the new HIV. It is media hype,” ACON community health director Nick Corrigan said.

The bacterium is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, not necessarily sexual, and in warm, wet areas. This could include typical Mardi Gras tourist choices like dance parties, saunas and sex premises.

“Short of living in a bubble, we cannot make ourselves immune,” Corrigan said.

He advised standard hygiene routines such as washing with soap after skin-to-skin contact, wiping down gym equipment and not sharing towels, razors or sex toys.

The USA 300 strain was not necessarily any harder to treat than many other strains, Corrigan said, and it was likely to already be present in the 25 percent of Australians carrying one or more strains of Staph.

“While MRSA is classed as difficult to treat this just means some antibiotics don’t work. All strains of MRSA can be treated and a simple clinical test will identify which one,” he said.

“Staph is known as scrum pox to rugby players, school sores to children and skin infections to most people.”

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