Hog Farms and Staph: A Connection?

| 11/9/2007 12:00:00 AM

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You've probably heard reports about the 21 schools in Virginia that were shut down due to an outbreak of a deadly strain of Staphylococcus bacteria, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The antibiotic-resistant strain spread through schools nationwide, and was even responsible for one death. When it showed up at the school where my husband teaches, Staph began to dominate my thoughts. What is happening here?

While there is no hard evidence to implicate widespread antibiotic use in agriculture as a cause for this mutated strain of Staph, a study published in Veterinary Microbiology pointed out that it commonly occurs in North American swine operations. The Keep Antibiotics Working coalition (KAW) is asking Congress to require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine if the use of human antibiotics in agriculture is contributing to the surge in MRSA infections and deaths.

Of course, bacteria are constantly evolving, and we work hard to ensure that our antibiotics keep up. But are antibiotics responsible? We know that antibacterial products are are overused in our cleaners and soaps, reducing our immune system's ability to defend against infection. Add to that the risks associated with the use of antibiotics in factory farming, and we've got a crisis on our hands. I hope the FDA responds to these requests and begins conducting tests at swine operations throughout the United States and Canada.

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