Disturbing evidence of a potential epidemic has been published in a study by University of Iowa College of Public Health researcher Tara Smith et al this January. The study was the first in the country to document animal-to-human transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant form of a common bacterium that causes deadly infections, though such research has previously been conducted in Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands.
After testing a sample of 299 pigs and 20 workers from two factory farms in Iowa and Illinois, the study concluded "that colonization of swine by MRSA was very common … suggesting that agricultural animals could become an important reservoir for this bacterium." MRSA prevalence was reported as high as 49 percent in swine and 45 percent of the same strain in the workers.
The researchers continue, "The rate of MRSA colonization in both humans and swine on the farms in one of the corporate systems in our study was high, suggesting that once MRSA is introduced, it may spread broadly among both swine and their caretakers."
Iowa is responsible for one quarter of the total pig population raised for consumption in the U.S. Its factory farms inundate their livestock with daily doses of "preventative" antibiotics. Paradoxically, this practice has been proven to foster ideal conditions for the evolution of antibiotic-resistant pathogens like MRSA, which already kills upward of 18,000 Americans annually. The impact of industrial agriculture on the human and zoological infection rate of this superbug, however, quite frighteningly has yet to be seen.
*For more on MRSA, click here.