The MRSA superbug found in pigs is increasingly jumping to humans, researchers warn
A new strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found among European pigs is increasingly spreading to humans and causing infections, warn University of Cambridge researchers in a study published on Tuesday.
The new strain of Livestock-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (LA-MRSA) is believed to have emerged among European livestock in the last 50 years due to widespread antibiotic use in farming, leading to concerns that livestock in Europe could become a reservoir of antibiotic-resistant human infections.
"Historically high levels of antibiotic use may have led to the evolution of this highly antibiotic-resistant strain of MRSA on pig farms," said Dr. Gemma Murrayn who worked on the study, adding that this LA-MRSA is "extremely stable" and has spread across different livestock species.
The strain, called CC398, was found to be the most dominant type found among pigs and other livestock in Europe and a growing cause of MRSA infections in humans, regardless of whether or not they had direct contact with livestock.
The study notes that in the case of Danish pig farms, the proportion of MRSA-positive herds had increased from 5% in 2008 to 90% in 2018.
While the EU has recently banned the use of zinc oxide, which was used to prevent diarrhea in piglets, over its environmental impact and promotion of antibiotic resistance, the Cambridge researchers warn that efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics may only have a limited impact on the spread of the strain due to its increased stability.
First discovered in humans in 1960, MRSA is considered by the World Health Organization to be one of the greatest dangers known to mankind. Sometimes referred to as a 'superbug', it is a type of staph bacteria that has developed a high resistance to many antibiotics.
While these infections most often result in minor skin conditions in humans, they can potentially lead to a number of more serious health issues and even death if the bacteria manages to penetrate deeper into the body through the bloodstream.
Nearly five million people died from antibiotic-resistant infections in 2019 around the world, becoming the third leading cause of death that year, according to a study published in the Lancet.