More MRSA in pigs, in Portugal

A brand-new report, in a letter to the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, indicates that ST398 “pig MRSA” has been found in Portugal for the first time.

Constanca Pomba and colleagues from the Technical University of Lisbon swabbed and cultured the noses of pigs and veterinarians on two pig farms in different regions of Portugal, and also checked the air at both farms.

What they found:

  • On Farm A: All pigs and the veterinarian positive for ST398, the pig-origin strain that has been found so far in Iowa, Ontario, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Germany and Austria and has, depending on the country, caused human disease and/been found on retail meat. The veterinarian was transiently colonized, which is to say that he was not carrying the bug long-term.
  • On Farm B: All pigs — but neither of two veterinarians — positive for a different MRSA strain, CC (or ST) 30. This is very interesting, because CC30 is usually a drug-sensitive strain (MSSA, methicillin-sensitive S. aureus), and has been found in pigs primarily in Denmark and France. In Portugal, it is a human MSSA hospital-infection strain.

Strains from both farms were resistant to tetracycline; this is turning out to be a great marker for these strains having emerged due to antibiotic pressure in animals, because tetracycline is very commonly used in pigs. but not much used for MRSA in humans. The strains have the genes tetK and tetM, so they are resistant not just to tetracycline itself, but to the whole class of tetracyclines including doxycycline and minocycline. The Farm B strains also carried the gene ermC, which encodes resistance to erythromycin.

So what does this tell us?

  • First, that (once again), every time people look for ST398, they find it; it is now a very widely distributed colonizing bug in pigs, and is repeatedly spreading to humans. What we don’t know, because all these studies are so new, is whether ST398 is actively expanding its range, or has been present in all these countries for a while. We have been anticipating its presence or spread (take your pick at this point) through the European Union because of open cross-border movement of food animals, meat, and agriculture and health care workers.
  • And second, it should tell us that it is really past time to start looking for this more systematically. Every finding of ST398 that we have (long archive of posts here) is due to an academic research team who decided to look for the bug. None of the findings, to date, have come from any national surveillance system. (NB: Except for the first human colonizations in the Netherlands, which were found as a result of the national “search and destroy” rules in hospitals.)

Of note, the European Union is running a study now that is supposed to report ST398 prevalence at any moment (as they have been saying since 2007). It is not expected to be comprehensive, since it was piggy-backed onto another study, but it is something. The US government has not been so enterprising.

The cite is: Pomba, C. et al. First description of meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) CC30 and CC398 from swine in Portugal. Intl J Antimicrob Agents (2009), doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2009.02.019


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