MRSA scares the bejeezus out of me

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MRSA scares the bejeezus out of me

A giant petri dish

MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant staph infection (a flesh-eating disease) that has been linked to both hospitals and farms.

What do farms and hospitals have in common? They collect a great number of sick or at-risk individuals together in one place, combined with lots and lots of antibiotics. Giving lots of antibiotics leads to the mutation of diseases into forms that are resistant to antibiotics, which could possibly mean that diseases will pop up that are potentially untreatable, or at least extremely difficult to treat.

Health Canada states that “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an emerging global health issue that, if not addressed, may evolve into one of the most significant public health challenges worldwide.”

I’ve written about MRSA before, but I just read about a new pair of reports that have come out with links between animals and humans and the spread of MRSA. One of the reports is about 3 patients in Spain who have been identified as having that country’s first cases of humans contracting “pig MRSA” (ST398):

The researchers spotted these particular isolates (out of 44 analyzed at the two hospitals in 2006) because they were resistant to tetracycline. Tetracycline resistance is not common among community strains of MRSA, because the drug isn’t the first-line choice for skin and soft-tissue infections; and when it is given, it’s usually for a short course, so the drug does not exert much selection pressure on the bug. But tetracycline is a very common animal antibiotic, and tetracycline resistance is a hallmark of ST398; it is one of the factors that led the Dutch researchers who first identified the strain to take a second look at the bug.

Tetracycline (and related antibiotics) are approved for use in Canadian livestock.

The other report is about an Italian man who contracted a similar flesh-eating disease called “Necrotizing fasciitis”:

Necrotizing fasciitis is a terrible disease: If doctors don’t respond very quickly, it can kill, while the emergency surgery that forestalls death often carves away large areas of flesh or sacrifices entire limbs. This patient was fortunate: He was in the hospital for 31 days, but recovered and went home.

The researchers conclude that “because our patient did not have any other potential risk factor, dairy cows were probably the source of the human infection.”

MRSA doesn’t get a lot of press, but it worries me that it is caused by excessive antibiotic use – and this particular “pig MRSA” is caused by antibiotic use in animals. Farmers are rightly worried that if they don’t give antibiotics to their animals then they will get sick and die prematurely. This is because they keep them in such unhealthy conditions, in confinement, packed in by the thousands into small spaces – conditions that no animal, human or not, could survive in for very long without contracting diseases.

If we want to ensure that the medicines that we’ve developed to fight diseases continue to work, we need to restrict their use as much as possible. Using them to enable animal agriculture, which the world could well do without, is completely irresponsible. This isn’t a case of treating one sick animal every now and then, when they are sick. This is actually a case of creating environments for disease and using antibiotics and other medications to improve weight gain, keep the animals alive long enough to slaughter them, and above all to increase profits.

Anyone who cares about our medical system and the health of everyone on this planet, human or animal, should really be opposed to this use of medications in animals. It’s threatening us all.

In the next few days there will be a report on CBS news about antibiotic use in animal agriculture which should be worth watching. The meat, egg, and dairy industries are vehemently opposed to any restrictions on the use of medications in animals, once again putting the general public at risk.

1 Comment

CBS report on antibiotic use | Liberation BC blog

February 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm

[…] I have written in the past about some of the health risks of antibiotic resistant diseases that develop as a result of the giant petri dishes these people call “farms.” […]

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