New MRSA Strain Infecting Milk, Humans

A new strain of an already antibiotic resistant bacteria has been found in milk and has been discovered to be linked to infections in humans. The superbug is an iteration of the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) pathogen.

WebMD notes that this new strain was previously undetectable and appears to be rare, showing up in some 1 percent of <"">MRSA cultured from humans living in the United Kingdom. Researchers believe that the greatest risk for contracting this dangerous infection would be from contact with cows carrying this particular MRSA strain and that people consuming dairy products face minimal threat as pasteurization and digestion should kill the bacteria, said WebMD. It is not known if the new MRSA strain is in United States cattle or milk.

“The main worry would be that these cows represent a pool of the bacteria and these bacteria end up colonizing people that work or live on farms and they take it out to the wider community,” said study researcher Mark A. Holmes, VetMB, a senior lecturer in the department of veterinary science at the University of Cambridge, England, quoted WebMD.

What the researchers are concerned with, said WebMD, is that the new MRSA strain carries a gene that enables it to avoid traditional detection via the popular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests used by hospitals and labs because of the speed with which results are received. The currently utilized testing method can create detection and diagnosing issues that could lead to serious consequences.

“If you end up with a serious infection from this bacteria and your sample goes to a laboratory to be tested and the only means of testing they do is the PCR testing, you could be falsely negatively diagnosed, be given methicillin-like drugs to treat it, and they would be ineffective,” says Holmes.

The strain was discovered, said the researchers, because when testing for bacteria, two methods are used: Bacteria is swabbed on agar, a gel food, treated with antibiotic positive discs to determine if drugs can kill the germ; PCR testing, the other test, seeks the mecA gene which makes MRSA resistant to a variety of antibiotics, including methicillin, explained WebMD. While the PCR test did not locate the mecA gene, the agar plate test found the new antibiotic resistant strain. When the researchers sequenced the full bacterium genome, they discovered the new copycat, or homologue, gene.

Hospitals and labs tend not to use the agar test because it takes about three days for results, while PCR testing takes about 30 minutes, said WebMD. Homologue genes are often missed with PCR testing, which means, said the researchers, that some MRSA cases are being missed. The new strain helped solve about half of the prior unexplained cases in the UK. “There’s more out there that we don’t know yet,” says Professor Ruth N. Zadoks, DVM, PhD, Moredun Chair of Veterinary Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, quoted WebMD. The study is published in The Lancet.

We’ve long reported on the escalating issues with MRSA, a type of staph that causes infections resistant to most antibiotics and has sickened tens of thousands of Americans annually in recent years. MRSA is a fully preventable disease and very treatable in early stages with early and proper diagnosis and general-purpose antibiotics, a bandage, and a clean environment. MRSA is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort, which is being used more and more, and with decreasing success. Without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, MRSA spreads rapidly, leading to respiratory failure and surgeries, attacking vital organs like the lungs and heart. Survivors are not always returned to their pre-MRSA condition, losing limbs, hearing, and full use of damaged organs.

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