Back again to MRSA in animals, and spreading to humans

There are two new reports out regarding new findings of “pig MRSA” ST398 (about which we have talked a lot; archive of posts here.)

First, researchers from the Complejo Hospitalario Universitario de Vigo and Complejo Hospitalario de Pontevedra, both in Pontevedra in northwest Spain, report that they have identified that country’s first human cases of infection with ST398. (It was only last fall that Spain reported the first identification of the strain in animals.)

The age of the three patients was 59, 82, and 83 years, respectively. Two patients owned pigs and the other a calf. Two patients were diabetic and were hospitalized because they developed skin and soft-tissue infections by MRSA ST398. The third patient had bronchitis and the strain was isolated from a respiratory secretion submitted to the laboratory from an outpatient clinic. The three patients had had multiple hospital admissions in the last 12 months.

Tellingly, the researchers spotted these particular isolates (out of 44 analyzed at the two hospitals in 2006) because they were resistant to tetracycline. Tetracycline resistance is not common among community strains of MRSA, because the drug isn’t the first-line choice for skin and soft-tissue infections; and when it is given, it’s usually for a short course, so the drug does not exert much selection pressure on the bug. But tetracycline is a very common animal antibiotic, and tetracycline resistance is a hallmark of ST398; it is one of the factors that led the Dutch researchers who first identified the strain to take a second look at the bug.

Second, researchers from several institutions in Italy report a very troubling case of ST398 infection that produced necrotizing fasciitis — better known as flesh-eating disease.

In early April 2008, a 52-year-old man was admitted to an intensive care unit in Manerbio, Italy, because of severe sepsis and a large ulcerative and suppurative lesion on the right side of his neck. His medical history was unremarkable. He was a worker at a dairy farm, was obese, and did not report any previous contact with the healthcare system.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a terrible disease: If doctors don’t respond very quickly, it can kill, whle the emergency surgery that forestalls death often carves away large areas of flesh or sacrifices entire limbs. This patient was fortunate: He was in the hospital for 31 days, but recovered and went home.

The Italian researchers are alert to, and troubled by, the larger meaning of this case:

… cattle-to-human transmission cannot be proven. However, because our patient did not have any other potential risk factor, dairy cows were probably the source of the human infection. … It is difficult to prevent persons with constant exposure to MRSA in their work or home setting from becoming MRSA carriers. Revisiting policies for the use of antimicrobial drugs on livestock farms, as well as improving hygiene measures, may therefore be necessary in infection control programs.

Cites for these papers:

Potel C et al. First human isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus sequence type 398 in Spain. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2010 Jan 23. [Epub ahead of print] DOI 10.1007/s10096-009-0860-z

Soavi L, Stellini R, Signorini L, Antonini B, Pedroni P, Zanetti L, et al. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ST398, Italy [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis 2010 Feb


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