New pig strain in China

Via Emerging Infectious Diseases comes the full version of a piece of research I posted on in September that was presented at the London conference Methicillin-resistant Staphylococci in Animals: Veterinary and Public Health Implications. A new MRSA variant — not ST398 — has been spotted in pigs in China.

Luca Guardabassi and Arshnee Moodley of the University of Copenhagen and Margie O’Donoghue, Jeff Ho, and Maureen Boost of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University report that they found a pig-adapted MRSA strain in 16 of 100 pig carcasses collected at 2 wet markets in Hong Kong. By multi-locus sequence typing, the strain is ST9, previously found in pigs in France; by PFGE, they fall into categories that tend to carry the community-strain cassettes SCCmec IV and V.

Here’s the bad news: This strain possesses resistance factors that resemble human hospital-associated MRSA more than they do ST398.

Twelve isolates displayed a typical multiple resistance pattern, including resistance to chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, clindamycin, cotrimoxazole, erythromycin, gentamicin, and tetracyline. The remaining 4 isolates were additionally resistant to fusidic acid. … All isolates were negative for Panton-Valentine leukocidin and susceptible to vancomycin and linezolid.

The further bad news, of course, is that this is being found in Hong Kong, adjacent to China, which is the world’s single largest producer of pork, raising tens of millions of tons of pig meat per year. Most of the pigs sold in Hong Kong come from the Chinese mainland, not from the SAR. Pig surveillance for MRSA in China is practically non-existent (which is not much of a criticism since it does not exist in the United States, either). A human infection with ST9 has already been recorded in Guangzhou, the province adjacent to Hong Kong.

The question, for this strain as for all MRSA strains in pigs, is what is its zoonotic potential? Here again, the news is not good. According to Maureen Boost, who presented this research at the London conference, the isolates were obtained by the researchers from intact heads from butchered pigs; the researchers took the snouts to the lab and and swabbed them there. Pig snout happens to be a desirable meat in China; it is bought in markets, taken home and made into soup. Boiling in broth would probably kill MRSA bacteria — but home butchering of a pig snout could pass the bug on to the human cutting it up, or to that human’s kitchen environment, long before the snout ever got into the pot.

The cite is: Guardabassi L, O’Donoghue M, Moodley A, Ho J, Boost M. Novel lineage methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Hong Kong. Emerg Infect Dis. 2009 Dec. DOI: 10.3201/eid1512.090378

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