In the long fight over antibiotic use in agriculture, one of the most contentious points is whether the resistant bacteria that inevitably arise can move off the farm to affect humans. Most of the illnesses that have been associated with farm antibiotic use — resistant foodborne illness, for example — occur so far from farms that opponents of antibiotic control find them easy to dismiss. So whenever a research team can link resistant bacteria found in humans with farms that are close to those humans, it is an important contribution to the debate.
A team from the University of Iowa, Iowa City Veterans Affairs, and Kent State University have done just that. In next month’s Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, they survey 1,036 VA patients who lived in rural Iowa and were admitted to the Iowa City facility in 2010 and 2011. Overall, among those patients, 6.8 percent were carrying MRSA, drug-resistant staph, in their nostrils. But the patients’ likelihood of carrying MRSA was 2.76 times higher if they lived within one mile of a farm housing 2,500 or more pigs.