Livestock and MRSA

A groundbreaking study linking livestock to antibiotic-resistant bacteria is bolstering one congresswoman's efforts to limit antibiotic use on farms.

A study published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine investigated the connection between methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—a potentially lethal condition that typically begins with a skin infection—that has similar characteristics in both humans and livestock.

Researchers used whole genome sequencing to trace a mecC-MRSA infection in two humans in Denmark back to a livestock reservoir. Researchers found the same variations of the MRSA bacteria in livestock and farmers, meaning that it can be transmitted from animals to humans.

To Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), this latest study proves definitively that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be transmitted from livestock to humans. She says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to face up to the “growing threat.”

“This study ends any debate,” she said. “The extreme overuse of antibiotics in livestock is endangering human health.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that controlling MRSA continues to be one of their top priorities and that life-threatening MRSA infections in healthcare settings declined 28 percent from 2005 to 2008.

However, a study by University of Chicago researchers claims that hospital-reported data vastly understates the rate of infection and that actual infection rates have doubled in the past five years.

The Need to Address Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Rep. Slaughter, who holds degrees in both public health and microbiology, recently reintroduced the “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” (PAMTA), a bill that aims to stop the overuse of antibiotics in livestock and for treating human disease. 

In essence, Rep. Slaughter wants the FDA to do what it’s said it would for nearly 40 years.

“Since 1977, when the FDA acknowledged the threat of antibiotic-resistant disease and called for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in animals, we have been waiting for meaningful action to protect public health,” Slaughter said in a press release. “Instead, we’ve gotten delays and half measures, and as a result, even common illnesses like strep throat could soon prove fatal. I’ve introduced this legislation because Congress must act immediately to protect the public health.”

A 2007 report from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy states that congressional action is needed to make antibiotic effectiveness a national issue, as it “has been hindered by insufficient funding and attention.”

Rep. Slaughter's bill has received support from 450 different organizations, including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and a slew of individual scientists and small farmers.

She has introduced the PAMTA bill four times since 2007. According to the government’s bill tracking site, it has a one percent chance of getting past the House Energy & Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). For a full list of the committee members, see their website.

Evolving Bacteria as a Health Crisis

Antibiotic use in livestock has long been proposed as one of several reasons why new “superbugs” continue to emerge. The bacteria now cropping up in hospitals are becoming stronger and more resistant to current antibiotics.

Earlier this year, the CDC issued warnings about carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a potentially deadly bacteria seen in 42 states, that continues to evolve in response to medications.

Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, warned earlier this month that “our strongest antibiotics don’t work [against CRE] and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections.”

One way to help may be to limit your exposure to unnecessary antibiotics, whether it be through livestock or a prescription from a doctor for a routine infection, such as a chest cold.

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