New York Times column Suggests Hogs Spread Staph Infections

March 12, 2009 07:00 PM

Jeanne Bernick, Farm Journal Crops & Issues Editor
A New York Times opinion piece this week suggests pigs are a source of MRSA infection for humans.
The column, entitled "Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health”, tells the story of a family doctor in Camden, Indiana who began seeing strange rashes on his patients. The rashes were cultured and determined to be MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a staph infection resistant to antibiotics. According to the article, the doctor began to question whether the infections were related to hog farms outside of town and whether pigs could be incubating and spreading the disease.
Livestock scientists call the opinion piece "highly speculative”, and point to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statements on MRSA that say most if not all cases of MRSA come from person to person contact, not person to animal. The column also does not define this strain as one that is found on any swine farm in the vicinity of Camden, Ind.
"They are making a huge leap attributing MRSA in these people to hogs,” says Angela DeMirjyn, science communications manager for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The pork organization has been researching MRSA for some time, says DeMirjyn, and supports the CDC's statement that most community acquired MRSA infections are caused by a different bacteria than is commonly associated with pigs or pig farms.
"We also know that MRSA is not just staph bacteria that can be found in pigs, it also can be found in horses, dogs and even marine animals. It is not a problem that is solely related to pigs,” DeMirjyn says.
MRSA, in fact, can be found anywhere in nature, according to Paul Ebner, a livestock microbiologist at Purdue University. While he says there has been an increase in the number of these infections and that pigs and other animals can be carriers, the vast majority of infections come from skin-to-skin contact with infected humans.
A University of Iowa study mentioned in the Times column was a pilot study that looked at only two farms, and only one of them had the organism, according to the Purdue scientists. Another Dutch study was also inconclusive.
The author of the March 12 New York Times op-ed piece Nicholas Kristof, is expected to publish a second column on Sunday on antibiotic-resistance.

For More Information
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You can email Jeanne Bernick at

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