Defra casts doubt on link to MRSA

Defra has questioned the accuracy of newspaper reports linking three identified cases of MRSA in humans in Scotland to pigs.

A spokesperson for Defra told MTJ: "We are not aware of any direct link between these patients and livestock. DH/Health Protection Scotland would need to provide further information on these cases." It also pointed to 940 clinical isolates of staphylococcus aureus from cattle that were tested by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in 2006/07 and proved negative for MRSA.

Defra added that an EU survey of breeding pigs is in progress to assess the prevalence of MRSA and of salmonella in Great Britain. It started in January 2008 and will conclude in December 2008. Once the survey is complete and the results have been analysed, Defra said, it will give a representative picture of the situation across the GB breeding pig population. "The provisional results to date are negative for MRSA, but the survey is still in progress," it added.

The pig levy body BPEX said that, following the news of the three cases, it had alerted British pig keepers to the importance of biosecurity, especially in the light of past problems with foot-and-mouth disease and CSF. It added that staphylococcus aureus and MRSA are present naturally in the environment and that staphylococcus aureus is not a disease problem in pigs.

A spokesman for BPEX said: "Antibiotics are only used to treat disease and have to be prescribed by a vet. By and large, those in use are not used in human medicine."

But the Soil Association, which highlighted the MRSA link after its experts became aware of an

unusual case in Scotland and asked the Scottish MRSA Reference to carry out further tests, is now

calling on Defra to publish interim results of its testing for MRSA in pigs. At the same time, it is asking the government to introduce a comprehensive testing programme for MRSA in other farm animals.

Soil Association policy adviser, Richard Young, said: "It is regrettable the government has allowed this problem to develop, when action at an early stage could have nipped it in the bud. ST398 is no more serious than existing strains of MRSA, but it is resistant to diffe-rent antibiotics and, where present, it will make it harder for doctors to select an effective drug quickly."

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