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UK MRSA call overstated, argues Shropshire vet

By Nicholas Robinson , 04-Jan-2013
Last updated the 04-Jan-2013 at 10:45 GMT

Biosecurity for the pig and poultry sector in the UK was exceptionally good
Biosecurity for the pig and poultry sector in the UK was exceptionally good

Monitoring MRSA in UK livestock is important, but the bug is not necessarily a new issue, according to James Marsden, Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS), from Shropshire Farm Vets.

Marsden was responding to a story published on 2 January by GlobalMeatNews.com, which looked at a call from the Soil Association to the UK government to monitor MRSA in UK cattle.

Marsden acknowledged that the bug should be monitored, as should the use of antibiotics in farm animals, but added that the bacteria MRSA ST398 could not be described as an epidemic in the UK and said measures to ensure antibiotics were being used responsibly were already being undertaken on many UK farms, despite the Soil Association’s claims.

“One of the two clear issues in the article were the responsible use of medicine,” he said. “We undertake a lot of training courses for farmers to ensure that medicines are used responsibly, that the dose rate and duration of treatment medicine is correct, in order to reduce the risk of resistance bacteria developing. We not only demonstrate to farmers how to administer medicines in the correct way, but also how to reduce the need for antibiotic usage with ever-improving management regimes.”

He also explained that Shropshire Farm Vets used the five-point plan with farmers, which includes using disinfectants, such as iodine, to kill bacteria on cows’ teats after milking, which he said lessens the need for antibiotic use.

One in four

Marsden added that one in four humans in the UK had MRSA on their skin and that the ST398 strain was a different form of that. He said we come into contact with the bug more often than we think and that it can spread on equipment used alongside the rearing of farm animals, which is why the use of disinfectant on farms is important.

As for the “superbug” infecting pigs and poultry in the UK, Marsden told GlobalMeatNews.com that biosecurity for the pig and poultry sector in the UK was exceptionally good, which meant MRSA ST398 was unlikely to spread from cattle, and that the greater danger would be importing pigs and poultry from countries with high prevalence of the bacteria in their livestock.

“A high proportion of people have it on their skin, but we are seeing new strains of MRSA in humans and livestock and it is important this is monitored,” he said.

“Responsible use of antibiotics is crucial and using them in a sensible way is very important. We actually kill a lot of harmful bacteria by using them in this way, which means these bugs do not lead to disease in livestock or man. The other thing is to reiterate that we know MRSA is present in the UK and I agree with the Soil Association, that the prevalence of harmful microorganisms, along with changes in their serotype need to be monitored.

“In the UK we have only just started monitoring for MRSA ST398, so one must bear in mind that absence of detection in the past does not mean it was not present in the past.”