A potentially deadly MRSA strain ST398 has been identified in seven samples of bulk milk from five different farms in England.
A team of Scientists from the department of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge tested 1,500 samples of bulk milk and found seven cases of MRSA ST398 from five farms in England, Scotland and Wales.
MRSA is a type of bacterial infection that is resistant to a number of widely used antibiotics. This means it can be more difficult to treat than other bacterial infections.
The full name of MRSA is meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. These are a common type of bacteria. It is often carried on the skin, inside the nostrils and the throat and can cause mild infections of the skin, such as boils and impetigo.
The Soil Association, which campaigns for organic farming, is calling for a government investigation to establish the spread of the MRSA and a crackdown on the use of antibiotics on UK farms.
As indicated there is no risk of MRSA infection to consumers of milk or dairy products so long as the milk is pasteurised. The risk comes from farmworkers, vets and abattoir workers, who may become infected through contact with livestock and transmit the bug to others.
Mark Holmes, of the department of veterinary medicine, who led the study, published in Eurosurveillance, said: “This is definitely a worsening situation. In 2011 when we first found MRSA in farm animals, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] initially didn’t believe it. They said we don’t have MRSA in the dairy industry in this country. Now we definitely have MRSA in livestock. What is curious is that it has turned up in dairy cows when in other countries on the Continent it is principally in pigs. Could it be in pigs or poultry in this country? We don’t know.”
Dr Holmes said the major question is why MRSA is appearing in farm animals and whether this is linked to intensive farming and the associated heavy use of antibiotics.
He said, “If farmers were not screwed into the ground by the supermarkets and allowed to get a fair price for their milk they would be able to use fewer antibiotics. Common sense tells us that anything we can do to reduce use of antibiotics will reduce the growth of resistant bugs. We want to wean our farmers off antibiotics and the only way we can do that is with better regulation.”