ST398 found again — in Italy

There’s a letter in the upcoming issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases (hat tip Pat Gardiner) alerting the medical community that “pig MRSA” ST398 has been found in Italy, adding t the steadily enlarging list of countries where this strain has been identified.

(NB: Because most of these surveys are one-offs, we don’t yet know whether ST398 is truly expanding its range, or has always been there, but no one looked until now.)

Angelo Pan and colleagues of the Cremona Hospital and other institutions report that a pig-farm worker was discovered to have a severe pyomyositis (abscess buried in muscle):

The case-patient was a 58-year-old man admitted to a surgical department in Cremona, Italy, on July 30, 2007, because of a 1-week history of fever and intense pain in his right buttock. He worked on a pig farm, was obese, consumed high volumes of wine (1.5 L/day), was taking medication for hypertension, and had not had recent (<5 years) contact with the healthcare system. At the time of hospital admission, he was moderately ill, oriented, and cooperative. His right buttock was extremely painful. He reported neither recent trauma nor anything that would explain infection. ...
Based on clinical and magnetic resonance imaging data, the diagnosis was cellulitis, pyomyositis, and pelvic multiloculated abscess of the buttock. A needle aspiration of the abscess, guided by computed tomography, was performed. Because of persistent fever (38.5°C), oral ciprofloxacin was added to the patient’s treatment regimen on day 3. Blood and abscess cultures yielded MRSA that was sensitive to glycopeptides, rifampin, linezolid, gentamicin, and mupirocin and resistant to co-trimoxazole, macrolides, clindamycin, and fluoroquinolones. After treatment was switched to vancomycin plus rifampin, the patient’s general condition improved; he was discharged from the hospital after 24 days.

An investigation was launched, and the results were intriguing:

Two fellow workers were colonized with S. aureus, 1 with methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) and the other with MRSA. The pig farm, a farrow-to-finish production farm with 3,500 pigs, was screened for MRSA … Dust swabs were taken from 5 areas of the farm; 7 MRSA isolates were detected.
The isolate from the patient belonged to spa type t899, was ST398, carried an SCCmec type IVa cassette, and was PVL negative. The isolate from the MRSA-colonized worker was a t108 strain carrying SCCmec type V. The isolate from the MSSA-colonized worker was identified as t899. The dust swabs yielded 7 isolates: 2 belonged to t899 and carried SCCmec IVa; 5 belonged to t108 and carryied SCCmec V. The isolates obtained from the patient, farrowing area 7, and gestation area 1 were indistinguishable (i.e., same spa type, SCCmec type, and ST profile; Table), thus confirming the animal origin of transmission.

So, we have:

  • A high rate of carriage on the farm (3 of 4 workers with ST398, either MR or MS)
  • A strain-type that is both MRSA and MSSA, suggesting that in its drug-sensitive state it can acquire resistance factors rather easily
  • A PVL-negative strain that nevertheless causes invasive disease requiring more than 3 weeks hospitalization

None of these are good news.

The authors very sensibly call for more public-health attention to this strain, which — we have contended before — is long overdue:

…attention should be given to the emergence of MRSA strains among animals, and continuous surveillance in humans should monitor the extent of disease from MRSA ST398, especially in areas of intensive animal farming. Collaboration between infectious disease specialists, microbiologists, and epidemiologists, on both the human and the veterinary sides, should be strengthened and readied for appropriate action whenever complex, zoonotic, public health issues occur.

The cite is: Pan A, Battisti A, Zoncada A, Bernieri F, Boldini M, Franco A, et al. Community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ST398 infection, Italy [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2009 May. DOI: 10.3201/eid1505.081417


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