Livestock-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (LA-MRSA) has been isolated from a post-weaning piglet in Northern Ireland.
The animal was one of a group of five piglets with a history of pneumonia and wasting submitted to the Omagh disease surveillance laboratory of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in May 2014.
There had been a history of 10 per cent piglet postweaning mortality over the previous two to three months on the farm involved.
While LA-MRSA is a relatively common finding in pigs in some EU countries, including the Netherlands, this is believed to be the first reported isolation of LA-MRSA from a pig in the UK, according to vets recording the findings in the Veterinary Record.
The discovery has prompted calls for more action from Government to address the issue of antibiotic resistance in farm animals.
A DARD Spokesperson said: ‘DARD is aware that the first case of Livestock Associated MRSA (LA-MRSA) in the north was identified several weeks ago in a 6-8 week old piglet.
“This case poses no risk to the general public and is different from the MRSA strain that can be found in healthcare.
“LA-MRSA presents a low occupational risk for those working in close contact with infected livestock and is not a notifiable disease. Meat from LA-MRSA affected animals is perfectly safe to eat provided normal good hygiene and thorough cooking practices are observed.
“DARD is liaising with the Public Health Agency and is providing advice and assistance to those on the farm in question.”
However, the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics called on the government to urgently carry out a full MRSA survey of the UK pig industry to determine how widespread the superbug is.
It is also calling for immediate restrictions to be introduced on the farm use of antibiotics classified as ‘critically important’ in human medicine in order to reduce the spread of the bacteria.
Alison Craig, Campaign Manager for the Alliance, which includes Soil Association, Compassion in World Farming, and Sustain claimed UK farm antibiotic usage has actually gone up during the past six years, while the Netherlands has cut usage by 63 per cent during that period.
LA-MRSA was first found in pigs in the Netherlands in 2004, and has since been found in poultry and veal calves in many European countries and in North America.
LA-MRSA has also been found in British poultry and in bulk milk from dairy cattle.
Defra and the Department of Health have said LA-MRSA is not a significant threat to human health.
But the alliance said recent German research found that some sub-strains of LA-MRSA are more virulent than others.
Scientists have warned that the ‘huge reservoir’ of LA-MRSA in livestock and the constant transmission to humans mean the bacteria pose ‘a serious threat to human health’ as they have ample opportunity to adapt to infecting humans, the alliance claimed.
The Danish government recently announced that four deaths from LA-MRSA had occurred, and none of the patients had any known connection to farming, suggesting that the bacteria can also spread more widely, the alliance said
Human LA-MRSA infections have already occurred in Scotland and in England where the patients were not directly connected to farming.
Derek Butler, Chairman of MRSA Action UK and who has lost three family members to MRSA, said: “We are sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode. Sooner or later bacteria will transfer from animals to humans causing infections.”