This paper explores whether, and to what extent, national newspaper messages tally with public perceptions about meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It compares research on media messages about MRSA with interview data gathered from a demographically diverse sample of 60 people interviewed from the Greater London area. Across the interview sample there was a shared consensus that most people associated MRSA not with the history of antibiotic use, but with dirty and poorly managed hospitals. Some media messages, such as blaming MRSA on the alleged 'management culture' of the NHS, seemed to capture the Zeitgeist, whereas others, in particular the 'celebrity victims' of MRSA, did not seem to resonate with the audience. This study also found that ideas based on scientific understandings about germ theory and the immune system were held alongside folklore such as miasmic theory. The comparison of media and mind thus points to the existence of pre-scientific understandings of germs, contagion and blame in parallel with the biomedical story in the minds of the public. The findings contribute to our understanding of the public and patients' views of this infection. © 2008 The Hospital Infection Society.
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