Government scientists have reported the first ever cases of livestock-associated MRSA in pigs in England.
The skin disease was confirmed in piglets from a breeder-finisher farm located in eastern England, Defra's Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) confirmed.
Outbreak of skin disease
Two 10-day old piglets with skin lesions were submitted to an APHA veterinary centre on 30 December last year. The current cases only came to light after an outbreak of skin disease affecting 11 litters on a farm in eastern England.
Defra scientists tested two 10-day old piglets and both were MRSA-positive. Overall, out of the 60 pigs with the condition, six died.
It is the second case of livestock-associated meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (LA-MRSA) confirmed in the UK after the disease was first discovered on a pig from a farm in Northern Ireland last August.
The finding comes just weeks after scientists in Europe, where MRSA has been present in pigs for a decade, reported that the same strain of LA-MRSA is evolving to become a serious hazard for humans.
Piglets infected and not just carriers of MRSA
The fact the piglets were infected by MRSA, not just carriers of the disease, means this could be the more virulent type the European scientists are worried about, although this has not yet been confirmed.
LA-MRSA was first reported in pigs in the Netherlands in 2005, and rapidly spread throughout the European pig population through the trade of live animals. However, the UK imports few live pigs from Europe.
Unlike most European countries, the UK has not carried out any active MRSA surveillance of its pig and poultry, other than an EU-mandated survey of pigs in 2008.
Action needed when England was MRSA-free
Cóilín Nunan, principal scientific adviser to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: "In 2007, when Britain's pig herd was MRSA-free, we called for all imported pigs from MRSA-positive countries to be tested and for the use of the antibiotics most likely to select for the bacteria to be restricted.
"But Defra refused to take action and now that MRSA-free status has been lost. It's scandalous that Defra still isn't doing any proper MRSA surveillance of British pigs.
"Defra's inactivity on this issue for years has allowed this situation to develop. These cases are likely to only be the tip of the iceberg. MRSA may already be much more widespread in British pigs since most pigs with the bacteria show no visible infection."
Source: Farmers Weekly