The UK’s Sunday Express takes note today of “pig MRSA” ST398 (full post archive here) in a story that is both somewhat alarmist and oddly incomplete, since it misses a piece of news that I told you about here last June.
The Express story raises the alarm over ST 398 in pigs in the Netherlands, colonizing farmers and causing human illnesses. There is nothing in it that we have not already discussed here many times, but it is nevertheless worth noting because it appears to be the first report on ST398 in a year in a major UK paper. (Credit for what I think is the first mention of ST398 in the Brit press goes to the Independent.)
But here’s what’s odd about the story: It says (italics mine),
A DEADLY new form of MRSA is believed to be spreading from farm animals to humans – already the bacteria has been found in hospitals abroad.
It is the first time the bug has spread in this way and experts believe excessive use of antibiotics in factory-farmed animals may be behind its development.
“Farm animal” MRSA, as it is known, can cause a raft of illnesses including skin infections, pneumonia, bone infections and endocarditis. …
The new MRSA bug, known as ST398, could reach hospitals in the UK, causing serious illness and death among vulnerable patients. (Byline Lucy Johnstone and Martyn Halle)
However as constant readers here already know, ST398 has already has been found in UK hospitals: in three unrelated patients — one adult and two newborns — in a Scottish hospital, none of whom had any relationship to pig-farming.
Credit for pushing the story of ST398 in the UK goes to the organic/sustainable farming group the Soil Association, who have aggressively monitored and lobbied for the extremely slow reveal of ST398 by the British government. As the issue now stands, the UK tested British pigs for ST398 colonization in 2008, but has not revealed the results. It has not yet tested retail meat in the UK, some of which is imported from the Netherlands, the location where the most ST398 has been found.
While that sounds like foot-dragging, it is still ahead of the US: Except for the study published in January by Tara Smith’s team at University of Iowa (paper here, my Scientific American story here), there has been no testing of pigs in the US, certainly none by government agencies.
(Hat-tip to Pat Gardiner for alerting me to the Sunday Express article.)