Pigs, MRSA, and 'Superbugs'

By way of Amanda, I came across this NY Times op-ed by Michael Pollan that discusses the role of agribusiness' misuse of antibiotics in the rise community-acquired methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA). I've talked about the MRSA 'pig epidemic' before, and, Intelligent Designer knows I've talked about the misuse of antibiotics in agriculture, such as the attempt to get cefquinome approved for use in agriculture (Sack, met Mr. Stupid and Ms. Hammers). But I'm not sure that Pollan is correct about this.

The strain of CA-MRSA found in pigs is nothing like those found in healthy people or people in medical settings ('healthcare-associated MRSA or 'HACO-MRSA'*). While these piggy strains can serve as a genetic reservoir of resistance genes that could transfer to human S. aureus, in this case, I think it's medical misuse of beta-lactam antibiotics (penicillin, oxacillin, and methicillin, along with the cephalosporins) that is most likely driving the human MRSA problem. In addition, it's not clear to what extent the methicillin resistance in piggy isolates is simply hitchhiking along with what appears to be a superbly adapted strain for pigs.

Pollan, in the op-ed, admits this, but only after throwing a whole heap of scare around. Right now, there is some very good antibiotic legislation working its way through Congress, and we do not need misinformation, because the agricorporations will jump on that and marginalize everyone who is working on this issue.

One things that would be very helpful if if the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) were fully-funded, so it could collect good samples, rather than piggybacking onto existing projects due to budgetary constraints, and do the molecular epidemiology and resistance testing needed to figure this problem out. Simply throwing another mandate at NARMS without adequate funding will only weaken surveillance.

If this issue becomes a political football, like global warming, rather than a public health problem, we're going to have a lot of dead people (we already have too many from antibiotic-resistant infections). Scientific precision matters here, and Pollan isn't helping.

*Because what microbiology needs is another fucking acronym.

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But, hey, at least it's a pronounceable acronym. Hackomersa!

By Michael Schmidt (not verified) on 20 Dec 2007 #permalink

Some good points here. My view is that we need to figure out how to effectively de-colonize the potential reservoirs.

By aggiemicro (not verified) on 20 Dec 2007 #permalink

I know this is an old post but just wondering what you thought of today's (3/12/09) op-ed in the Times by Krisof?