More on the issue of doing more microbiology to track the epidemiology of CA-MRSA (raised in an exchange below between me and Medifix, to whom many thanks for being my first commenter!). In my slog through the endless and growing MRSA literature, I came across a paper that poses the problem much better than I did.
In Use of Routine Wound Cultures to Evaluate Cutaneous Abscesses for Community-Associated MRSA (Annals of Emergency Medicine, July 2007; cite here, no abstract), Fredrick Abrahamian and Sunil Shroff of UCLA School of Medicine say that cultures and susceptibility testing are not always necessary. The tests might not be needed, for instance, if a skin/soft-tissue infection suspected of being MRSA is going to be incised and drained without antibiotics being prescribed; or if antibiotics are going to be prescribed, but physicians already know local susceptibility patterns and plan to order a drug that will provide coverage. In both cases, having additional information about the strain infecting the patient is not going to make any difference to the patient's treatment.
That information will make a difference to understanding the local, regional, national epidemic. But as Abrahamian and Shroff say: "One must determine if it is ethical to make an individual pay the cost of a test for a perceived public health benefit."
The obvious answer is to say the CDC should do it — they are after all the arbiters of population-level public health. Only, you know, their budgets have been being cut...