Our bodies are under siege, constantly fighting back assaults from disease-causing bacteria. But we are also home to many harmless bacterial species that are share our bodies to no ill effects. Now, it seems that these ‘commensals’ could be our hidden allies against their harmful cousins. In one such ally, a group of scientists has just discovered a potential new weapon against Staphylococcus aureus.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is very difficult to kill. This notorious “superbug” can withstand a broad and growing range of antibiotics, and is the leading cause of hospital infections in many countries. But it’s not restricted to hospitals. According to studies coming in from all over the world, MRSA has found a new route into our bodies -piggyback.
Pig farms throughout the world have become breeding grounds for strains of MRSA that can jump from swine to humans. These strains have already been isolated in the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada, and now, the latest study adds the USA to that list. The research was led by Tara Smith from the University of Iowa, who I know as a Scibling and who many of you will recognize as the author of the excellent Aetiology blog.
Smith found widespread traces of MRSA in two different production systems in the states of Iowa and Illinois. Within the nostrils of 49% of pigs and 45% of pig farmers, her team detected traces of the “superbug” (although it’s worth noting that none of the farmers had experienced any actual infections). Piglets had the highest rates of infection and in fact, every single pig under the age of 12 weeks harboured MRSA colonies.
The high levels of the bacterium in both man and pig suggest that it can spread readily between the two species. To MRSA, both four leg and two legs are good…