SAN DIEGO, CA — Navy health officials say the person behind a health crisis that has resulted in thousands of sick sailors, weeks of lost working hours, and over $3 million in medical expenses is a Chula Vista mother of four, high school dropout, and Del Taco employee.
Navy brass is now scrambling to keep sailors away from bar hog Tiffany McCarthey, 24, a carrier of drug-resistant gonorrhea that has spread to sailors all throughout the fleet.
"It's all been a fucking wild ride," McCarthey said. "I feel like a celebrity. In the last month, I got free health care by the military, my picture's been passed around all over base, and now I'm gonna be in the newspaper."
McCarthey said the attention is especially gratifying considering that her stepfather once said "she'd never amount to nothing."
Earlier this year, sailors began contracting gonorrhea that was resistant to drugs, even Suprax, the "last line of defense" that doctors typically use when all other antibiotics fail. By the 15th of last month, over 8000 sailors have fallen ill.
Captain Wayne Harangozo, a Navy epidemiologist at Walter Reed Medical Center, began a frantic health investigation.
"I knew this was serious right way," Harangozo said. "The Navy is no stranger to gonorrhea. It does, after all, make port calls in Phuket. But this was different."
Harangozo flew out to Navy bases around the world, struggling to find out what could be causing this epidemic.
After weeks of dead ends, Harangozo finally had his "Eureka!" moment.
"The first batch of sick sailors had spent time at the Trophy Lounge," Harangozo said, referring to a bar in National City, Calif., not far from Naval Base San Diego. "And they all mentioned the same girl by name."
Harangozo drove down to the Trophy Lounge and asked the bartender for someone named "Tiff." The bartender pointed to McCarthey down at the end of the bar, drinking a beer alone and scanning the room. Years of weight gain had stretched and distorted her lower back tattoo, which was peeking out beneath her midriff shirt.
When Harangozo walked up to McCarthey, a regular at Trophy Lounge for years, she asked him, "What rank are you?"
"I just want to talk," Harangozo replied.
"Oh, a romantic type," she said.
Harangozo cleared up the misunderstanding and took McCarthey to be examined. The diagnosis: super gonorrhea.
"Tiff's all right," said Machinist's Mate First Class Brian Salmon. "Some girls you take home to Mama. Some girls you take to your car in the parking lot and when you're done tell 'em you're going to Denny's now, so she needs to get out of your car."
"Tiff's that second type of girl," Salmon said.
Harangozo estimated that McCarthey has slept with over 70 sailors since the start of the year, a figure McCarthey finds insultingly low.
"Try 700, asshole," McCarthey said. "It's like that doctor thinks I can't get guys or something, like he's better than me or something."
Naval Base San Diego officials have added McCarthey's vagina to the list of locations that are off-limits for sailors, a measure that Harangozo fears is too little, too late.
"Unfortunately, everything I know about sailors tells me that they will still be having sex with this woman and putting themselves and the Navy at risk," Harangozo said.
"Hopefully," he added, "they remember to wear a condom. Or a Hazmat suit."