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article imageMRSA superbug in supermarket pork sparks alarm over farming risks

By Megan Hamilton     Jun 19, 2015 in Health
Cambridge - A strain of the MRSA superbug linked to the overuse of antibiotics has been discovered in pork sold by several prominent British supermarkets, according to an investigation by The Guardian.
After testing 100 packets of pork chops, bacon and gammon, the Guardian found that nine pork products, eight of which were Danish in origin, and one Irish, were infected with MRSA CC398. The products were sold in Sainsbury's, Asda, the Co-Operative, and Tesco.
Fortunately, CC398 in meat doesn't pose much risk to the public, but it can be transmitted by touching infected meat products or by coming into contact with infected livestock or people. One thing that makes it less risky is that it can be killed through cooking.
Many of us carry the bacteria with no signs of illness, but some people have developed skin problems, and this bug can cause life-threatening infections, including pneumonia and blood poisoning. Researchers warn that MRSA CC398 has emerged as a result of antibiotic overuse in intensive, or factory farming. Evidence suggests that the UK may be at risk of a larger health crisis unless the authorities take action, the Guardian reports.
A variant of the MRSA bug found in hospitals, MRSA CC398 is endemic to pig farms in a few European countries, particularly Denmark, which is Europe's biggest pork producer and a prominent exporter to the UK. The Guardian reports that it tested 74 Danish pork products, 25 British products, and one pork product from Ireland.
Sainsbury's, in response, says it's products were "routinely tested" for a variety of microorganism, and added that the bug can be killed through cooking. The Co-Operative reported it's "investigating the findings," in conjunction with their Danish bacon supplier. Tesco declined comment, the Guardian reports, per The Independent.
For it's part, Asda says it takes "concerns over food safety seriously" and is working closely with suppliers so that security measures are in place to "guard against any potential issues."
Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the following, per The Independent:
"There are no known cases of people contracting LA-MRSA CC398 from eating meat in the UK. Even on the continent where LA-MRSA CC398 is much more prevalent there is no clear evidence of food being linked to infection in people. Previous research has found LA-MRSA in meat on sale in the UK and we are working with experts from across government to better understand the potential risk to public health."
About 45 percent of antibiotics used in the UK were used in animals, according to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, per The Independent.
"This is fuelling the emergence of bacteria which can pass to humans through contact with animals and raw meat, or through the environment," the Alliance says on its website. The organization is also calling on "major UK retailers to reduce antibiotics in their meat supply chains."
What is LA-MRSA CC398?
In the UK, MRSA is most known for causing hospital-related infections and numerous deaths. In the community there hasn't been much human to human transmission of this bug, but it's dangerous in hospitals for the mere fact that it can colonize wounds easily, especially in patients with compromised immune systems, The Guardian reports.
MRSA has been associated with poor hygiene in hospitals, but the biggest factor in its spread has been the overuse of antibiotics. This has allowed a rather ordinary germ that lives on many of our bodies without causing problems to become vastly more dangerous to our health.
Government attempts to limit MRSA infections met with some success, but there has been very little comparable effort in in combating MRSA infections in livestock, the Guardian reports.
Fully cooking the items and taking hygienic precautions should make them safe to eat, the researchers say, but they add that this discovery discloses one way the disease can spread from farms to the general population, Cambridge News reports.
"This is the first time that MRSA has been detected in retail meat products in the UK," said Dr. Mark Holmes, of the Department of Veterinary Medicine.
He added:
"The public should not be overly worried by this as sensible food precautions and good hygiene should prevent its spread. It's also usually pretty harmless and only causes health problems if it infects someone in poor health or gets into a wound.
"However, this does suggest that MRSA is established in our pig farms and provides a possible route of transmission from livestock, through those in direct contact with pigs, into the wider population."
Since two of the infected samples contained processed pork, the researchers say they can't rule out that the meat packing plants from which the MRSA in this study originated also handled imported meat.
If this turns out to be true, there's the distinct possibility that cross-contamination could have occurred from meat from other countries to UK sourced meat.
Cambridge News reports that the research for this was funded by the Medical Research Council. Support also came from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, and the results of the study are published in the online journal Eurosurveillance.
More about MRSA superbug, MRSA, Pork, Antibiotics, overuse of antibiotics
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