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Study links living near livestock with drug-resistant infection

Living near a livestock farm may increase your risk of acquiring an antibiotic-resistant infection, according to a new study led by researchers from Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In reviewing data from the Netherlands, a team of Hopkins and Dutch scientists found that the odds of being exposed to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, are greatest in the southeast region of that European country, an area with many livestock farms. The risks were not limited to the farmers themselves, but were also elevated for people living near herds of cattle, pigs or veal calves, the researchers said. Their findings, in the November issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, can be read here.

MRSA most commonly causes skin infections, but it can also produce pneumonia or more severe and potentially life-threatening infections in the bloodstream and at surgical sites. While in the past believed to be mainly a problem in hospitals and other health care facilities, more cases are turning up in non-health settings.  More than 40 percent of the MRSA cases in the Netherlands have been associated with livestock, according to the study.

After factoring out farmers and other people in direct contact with farm animals, researchers found the odds of someone being exposed to the strain of MRSA associated with livestock were nearly  25 percent greater if they lived near pigs and 77 percent higher if near cattle.

The study focused only on livestock-associated MRSA in the Netherlands, but lead author Beth Feingold, a postdoctoral fellow at Hopkins, said, "I think it would be important to do a study here in the United States, where we do have intensive livestock farming as well."  Hopkins faculty members Ellen Silbergeld and Frank Curriero were co-authors.

Livestock-associated MRSA has been detected in the United States already, she noted, but there isn't the same type of surveillance conducted in this country as in the Netherlands

"I think there’s a possibility that we could see something similar here,” she said.

While the study looked at MRSA exposures in relation to herds of pigs, cows and veal calves, Feingold said it may also be worth looking to see if similar patterns turn up in areas with intensive poultry production, such as the Delmarva Peninsula. Dutch researchers have found chickens to be a reservoir for MRSA as well, she said, though not as frequently as with livestock.

Funding for the research came from Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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