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MRSA superbug may be spread through contaminated poultry


(NaturalNews) A previously unknown strain of the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) appears to be able to pass to consumers from contaminated poultry, according to a new study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The study was conducted by an international research team led by scientists from Statens Serum Institut, Milken Institute at the George Washington University.

Although typically thought of as an infection acquired in institutions such as hospitals, prisons and schools, MRSA is also known to infect people who work in close proximity with livestock, such as veterinarians, farm workers and workers at slaughterhouses and meat plants. The new study is the first to show, however, that MRSA can spread to consumers from contaminated meat.

"This poultry-associated MRSA may be more capable of transmitting from food to people," lead author Jesper Larsen said. "As MRSA continues to evolve, it may spread from animals to people in new ways."

Food inspectors don't test for MRSA

The researchers reviewed the Statens Serum Institut's national database of Danish medical records, and conducted genetic analysis on the strains of MRSA collected from people infected in various urban areas of the country. They then compared the genetic profiles of these bacteria with MRSA strains known to colonize humans, livestock and food products from across Europe.

The researchers identified at least 10 cases of people in Denmark who had been colonized or infected with a new type of poultry-associated MRSA never seen before. None of them had a history of working on farms or being exposed directly to food animals. The genetic profiles of the bacteria were nearly identical to each other, suggesting that all 10 people were exposed from a single source, likely contaminated poultry meat.

Notably, the strain in question was not found in Danish livestock, but was the same as strains found in meat imported from other countries in the European Union.

Meat safety inspectors rarely test for MRSA, focusing instead on species such as Salmonella or E. coli.

"We need to expand the number of pathogens that we test for in our food supply, and we need international leadership to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics on industrial farms around the world," researcher Lance Price said.

"Superbugs don't respect political or geographical boundaries, so we have to work together to address this public health threat. I'm not sure that our international trade agreements are prepared to handle the specter of superbugs in meat."

Antibiotics in agriculture threaten global health system with collapse

The findings lend urgency to growing calls to phase out the use of antibiotics in agriculture. In order to encourage growth and protect animals from the unsanitary conditions of modern factory farming, farmers regularly dose livestock with low-grade antibiotics, including many of the same ones used in human medicine. Experts have warned that this is a major cause fueling the evolution of superbugs worldwide.

"I fear that if we don't get antibiotic use in livestock under control, then new, more virulent strains of livestock-associated MRSA will emerge that pose a much greater threat to human health than what we are currently facing," researcher Robert Skov said.

In 2015, the World Health Organization head Margaret Chan warned that without urgent action, the spread of antibiotic resistance "will mean the end of modern medicine as we know it."

Antibiotics are not just needed to save lives in cases of severe infections. In fact, many infections now considered minor can become life threatening if not treated. Additionally, many now-routine medical procedures such as basic surgery, cancer treatment and care of premature infants would all be lethal without reliable antibiotics.

"The rise of antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis," Chan said. "More and more governments recognize [it is] one of the greatest threats to health today."

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