In the past few years there’s been a growing suspicion amongst scientists that we are on the verge of a potential Third Wave of MRSA, which includes brand new strains, that is coming from our food supply. They were worried about animal derived food, raised and brought to market from large-scale factory farms.
The basic equation is: antibiotics in, antibiotic-resistant organisms – MRSA – out. They made their case using numbers from 2011 about the factory farm system in the US: That 29 million pounds (15 tons) of antibiotics, are fed to 98 billion food producing cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys raised in confined spaces, which results in 1 billion pounds (500 million tons) of waste/manure that is discarded into the surrounding environment.
They thought the bugs didn’t just remain in the environment, in the soil and crops, in the water that we drink and play in, and in the foods we eat from these animals; rather, they believed the bugs transferred to the human population, making us sick or even killing us. But they lacked scientific proof.
Until this summer, when two landmark studies were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and in the Public Library of Science that confirmed their suspicions.
The JAMA study looked at the incidence of MRSA in communities near factory farms and fields fertilized with manure from those farms. They found an increased incidence of MRSA infections in those nearby populations compared to communities not near factory farms.
The PLOS study compared workers on factory farms to workers on traditional farms (where antibiotics weren’t used) and found significant amounts of livestock-associated MRSA (LA-MRSA) only on workers from the factory farms.
The JAMA study tells us that MRSA flows from the animals and the factory farm environment to nearby communities. The PLOS study tells us something more disturbing – it tells us there’s a new strain of MRSA, which they call LA-MRSA, that is being churned out by these factory farms. A new strain of MRSA means it’s resistant to more drugs than just methicillin and therefore it’s harder to treat. Here’s how it works.
Those billions of food producing animals mentioned above live their lives in confined conditions like sardines in a can. They are shot up with antibiotics to make them grow bigger and faster, and to prevent an outbreak of disease which is made more likely by the crowded conditions we force them to live in.
The animals stand in their feces/manure. When they are slaughtered their meat is often contaminated with the bugs in their feces. To dispose of the tons of manure from the animal pens it’s spread over the soil and crops in nearby fields. Once there, it leaches into surface and groundwater.
The farm workers, the manure, the soil, the crops, the water, and the insects and animals that feed off these things ALL act as carriers of the bugs, bringing them to our communities. And that’s exactly what the JAMA and PLOS studies showed.If I'm not mistaken this is the PLOS article, whose lead author is Flublogia's Dr. Tara C. Smith. Judging from my searches for it, LA-MRSA is not a brand-new term; it's been around for years. I can't find the JAMA article.