Norwegian scientists ID strategy for stopping MRSA transmission in pigs

Norwegian scientists discovered that farm workers are a major source of LA-MRSA transmission in pigs.

The transmissible disease livestock-associated MRSA (LA-MRSA) is a major threat to the swine industry in Europe. In Norway, where the disease emerged in 2013, animal health officials have implemented a “search and destroy” strategy, monitoring every animal closely to prevent LA-MRSA from spreading through herds. Now that strategy is bringing to light an unexpected source of transmission--and it’s not the pigs that are to blame, but rather the people who care for them.

In a study led by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, scientists are monitoring every pig herd in the country, collaborating closely with the swine industry, according to a press release. They have been analyzing epidemiological data, in addition to collecting samples from all the people and pigs in areas that were affected by LA-MRSA outbreaks in 2013 and 2014. Their findings show that people who work on pig farms are the main source of new LA-MRSA infections on farms.

"This is an important discovery and herds must be monitored if they are to remain free of MRSA, particularly in countries where there is little or no import of live pigs," said Petter Elstrøm, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in the release.

LA-MRSA rarely causes infections in otherwise healthy people, but continuing to monitor farm workers for the bug can help reduce the spread of the disease among animals, Elstrøm says. He cites the approach as a prime example of One Health, the global movement that’s aimed at uniting veterinary and human health professionals in the fight against diseases that animals and people share.

The Norway effort reflects a recent push by animal trade groups such as HealthforAnimals to embrace cross-discipline research in combating disease. In February, as Zika fears were on the rise, Belgium-based HealthforAnimals encouraged governments around the world to work with farmers, veterinarians and human health specialists to establish strategies for managing interactions with animals in ways that prevent disease transmission.

And recently, the USDA set up a web portal dedicated to One Health. The agency will use the portal to pool information on antimicrobial resistance, avian flu and other zoonotic diseases in order to provide a central resource for animal and human health experts that are working together to address these threats.

- here’s the press release on the LA-MRSA effort

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