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Officials are examining pig farms in Canada as a source of the new superbug MRSA, which is spreading at an alarming rate. Evidence points to its transfer from pigs treated with antibiotics to humans—affecting not only the elderly and young children, but also healthy adults.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MRSA (scientifically known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as staph) has caused 94,000 serious illnesses and 18,650 deaths in 2005—more than the total number of deaths among AIDS patients that same year.
The non-mutated form of staph has caused life-threatening infections throughout the world. It is often found in hospitals, where it is easily transmitted through blood, and especially affects those with weak immune systems. Staph is commonly found on the skin of healthy people, where it remains dormant and causes little harm. However, when it enters the bloodstream it can cause infection resulting in sickness and death.
MRSA is a mutated strain of the bacteria.
Pig farmers have indiscriminately injected their pigs with antibiotics to reduce the spread of staph. A survey of Canadian pig farms by the study shows that this, combined with unsanitary livestock environments, causes the bacteria to adapt to the treatments, thus developing into MRSA.
Humans who consume MRSA-infected pork are at risk of ingesting the bacteria into their digestive system and their bloodstream.
Pork products are exported around the world, but it is still too early to tell if this poses an international threat. The United States is one of the largest importers of Canadian bacon. Health officials have already discovered MRSA in Denmark, France and Singapore.
Dr. Inge van Loo of the St. Elisabeth Hospital in Tilburg, Netherlands, has been studying this bacterial development. Though he acknowledges that only low levels of MRSA have been found in consumer meats, he stated that introducing foods saturated with antibiotics is not a sensible idea.