MRSA spreads to the barnyard

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If you think the drug-resistant infectious bacteria MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is just a hospital or nursing home problem — think again. In recent years the stealth-like bacteria, sometimes simply called “staph,” has expanded from people to animals—ranging from pigs and other farm animals to family pets.

“MRSA is not just a hospital problem anymore. It can affect virtually anyone. It’s changed our thinking of staph strains as species-specific,” Tara Smith, associate professor, Department of Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology, College of Public Health at Kent State University, told a Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) audience. Smith’s talk, “Pigs, Pork and Pathogens: MRSA in Unexpected Places,” was presented at the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics Spring Seminar Series on March 6. Dan Larremore, postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology, introduced her.

The CDC reports about one-third of us have staph in our bodies, mostly on our skin or in the nose, but sometimes in the throat or intestinal tract. At least 1.5% or more of the population have the MRSA strain. MRSA may cause no symptoms or just minor skin problems in healthy people, but can lead to life-threatening infections in hospital patients and others with weakened immune systems.

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