“Pig MRSA” in the EU – long-awaited survey

It’s not very likely that people will be eating much pork today — OK, maybe some pancetta in the Brussels sprouts — and that’s good, because there’s lots of news today about MRSA in pigs.

(In fact, there’s a ton of news just this week. Make it stop.)

The European Food Safety Authority has published a long-awaited, European Union-wide survey looking for the presence of MRSA in pigs. Here’s the key points: Investigators found MRSA on 1 out of 4 farms where pigs were being raised and in 17 of the 24 EU states. (Two non-member states were included in the analysis.)

Strictly speaking, this is not a survey of MRSA in pigs; the study samples not the pigs themselves, but the dust in pig-raising sheds. The sites were 1,421 breeding farms and 3,176 farms where pig are raised to slaughter age. By far the most common strain was MRSA ST398, though other strains were detected, including some known human strains. The prevalence in various countries went from a low of 0 to as high as 46% of farms. (Highest, in descending order: Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal. The Netherlands, where St398 was first identified, had a prevalence of 12.8%. Countries reporting no MRSA: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia. Lithuania, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland.)

The report closes by recommending comprehensive monitoring of pigs for MRSA, as well as monitoring of poultry and cattle.

About the potential of ST398 crossing to humans, it has this to say:

In humans, colonisation with MRSA ST398 originating from pigs has been identified as an occupational health risk for farmers and veterinarians and their families. Although MRSA ST398 represents only a small proportion of the total number of reports of human MRSA infections in the EU… in some countries with a low prevalence of human MRSA infection, CC398 is a major contributor to the overall MRSA burden.
In most cases, colonisation with MRSA ST398 in humans is not associated with disease, although clinical cases associated with MRSA ST398 have been reported. MRSA ST398 can be introduced into hospitals via colonised farmers and other persons in a region with intensive pig farming. Therefore, MRSA ST398 may add substantially to the MRSA introduced in health care settings. However, it seems that the capacity for dissemination in humans (patient-to-patient transmission) of livestock-origin MRSA, in particular ST398, is lower as compared to hospital-associated MRSA).
… Food may be contaminated by MRSA (including ST398), however there is currently no evidence for increased risk of human colonisation or infection following contact or consumption of food contaminated by ST398 both in the community and in hospital.

Britain’s Soil Association, which pressed for the study to be done, has released a statement quoting the food safety agency warning that the testing method may have underestimated MRSA’s presence on farms, and warning that if ST398 is not yet in England, it is certainly soon to arrive. Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment also released a statement, admitting that ST398 in German pig stocks is “widespread.”

The report is here, executive summary here, and press release here. All well worth reading.

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