The MRSA/Industrial Farming Connection

Pigs in Close Proximity Given Antibiotics to Prevent Spread of Disease

I recently had a beloved aunt pass unexpectedly and well ahead of her time, after contracting MRSA while in the hospital for a routine outpatient surgical procedure.   So I did a little research and found out an uncomfortable truth.  Follow me over the fold.  Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus or MRSA for short is a recently emergent antibiotic-resistant form of Staph infection.  Initially, it was accepted conventional wisdom that this tough-to-kill bacterial strain found commonly now in US hospitals, had arisen due to folks not completing their courses of antibiotic treatment for the regular bacterial infections they contracted.  Remember how your doctor always said, “Make sure to continue the full 10 days of treatment with this antibiotic, even if you’re feeling fully healthy after 5 days”?  The reason he or she always insisted on completing the course of treatment was because stopping halfway through the course of antibiotic treatment  (once your symptoms cleared) allows the strongest strains of the infectious bacteria in your body — that the antibiotic had not yet eliminated — to grow stronger and mutate into super-bacteria.

Simple right? Logical to be sure.  However, there is more to the story. 

Did you know that modern livestock farming techniques are heavily dependent on antibiotics?  Its true.  And not just to treat sick animals.  Modern techniques for industrial agriculture, by design, herd thousands of heads of cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals together in very small spaces.  In this way, the industrial farm optimizes the output required to feed the Earth’s skyrocketing population.  Since the animals are held unnaturally close to one another, it is very easy for infection to spread.  So industrial farms have taken to the practice of keeping all animals on a regular course of low-dose antibiotics – to prevent the outbreak of infection.  According to recent studies, this practice is much more likely to be to blame for the rise of MRSA.  After all, millions more Americans eat meat each day than visit hospitals.  And it is believed that the introduction of low levels of antibiotics into the daily food supply of  millions of people worldwide is the primary driver behind the spread of MRSA.  FDA research confirms that 49% of pigs and 45% of pig workers in the US harbor MRSA bacteria.

Here’s the troubling part.  In April 2008, a high profile commission of farmers, doctors, scientists and veterinarians recommended that the FDA phase out the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals.  The FDA agreed and announced it would prohibit the use of one antibiotic that was in widespread use on industrial farms.  Five days before the ban was set to take effect, the FDA quietly reversed its position.  While no official statement was released explaining this inexplicable about face, it is widely believed that the powerful farm lobby on Capitol Hill was behind the reversal.

The decision to protect a narrow set of interests over the public health of the world’s population is a shortsighted one and one that may have been involved in the death of my sweet, departed aunt.  Have any of you or your friends/relatives been stricken by MRSA?  Share your stories below in the comments.

10 Responses to “The MRSA/Industrial Farming Connection”

  1. Another thing to add to this discussion, Anthony, is the fact we as patients “force” our doctors to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections in which antibiotics do not work. Docs are afraid of the consequences if they fail to presribe those antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics in the human population has contributed as much as the use in raising livestock.

    Another thing to add is that a lot of healthcare workers harbour the MRSA strain just as those pig workers ….

    It calls for very prudent handwashing by everyone. The best infectious control practitioners in the country advocate handwashing as the key to preventing infections to spread!!

    So wash your hands … wash them while you sing Row, Row Your Boat … that is the recommended time you should spend when washing hands.

    • Jo Largo

      I have had first hand experience with MRSA. My daughter who is 5 got MRSA last year. She had MRSA for about a month before any noticable problems appeared. The only antibotic that can treat it is sulfar based, we had no idea that she is alergic to sulfars. Pretty scary when you know that the only medicine that can treat it is a medicine your child is alergic to. After breaking out in hives, and finally getting rid of the painfull cysts she got. she is fine. Still carry the antibotic oinment around and put it on any scratch she gets just to be safe. She got MRSA from the VA hospital were my father is a perment resident. I was beyond upset when going threw his flyers that they (VA) new it was a problem and never posted anything anywhere for vistors to see. We have always made sure to wash our hands and stuff while we are there and when we leave. But my daughter is 5 and touches everyhting. The infection entered her body threw a scratch she has very dry itchy skin, and from her scratching thats how it got into her system. Not fun at all and then having to worry if the rest of us in the house could get infected was another worry. Her physician also told us that for up to 18 months after the initail contact she could still have break outs. Wash your hands and pay close attention to any cysts that you might get.

      Thanks
      Jo

  2. Donna Atkins

    My daughter-in-law lost her mother two years ago to a MRSA infection that consumed her within 48 hours of admission to the hospital for a minor surgical procedure. Her mother was in her early sixties and left a husband, four grown daughters and a whole bunch of grandchildren. Then, my sister-in-law contracted MRSA at a different hospital and left five grown children, many grandchildren and a husband who had just had a pacemaker installed. She was in her sixties also and had gone in for a minor procedure. In both cases, the sudden occurrence and fast moving infection precluded everyone having the opportunity to say goodbye and devastated – and continues to devastate exponentially – these families. Where is the social conscience and humanity in a system that allows corporate interest to prevail over the sanctity of individual life? We need to return to a time and place where we have a voice that can be heard and can expect to enter a place that is purportedly there for healing to provide us with basic safety. Otherwise, our children and our children’s children will bear the scars of families shattered by profound and unspeakable pain and loss.

  3. Donna Atkins

    I would be interested in knowing if eating pork more than other animal products is a risk at this particular juncture, based on the information in this current posting.

    • Kim Hamilton

      Another point to make with MRSA is that it now is basically everywhere. There is also what is called community acquired MRSA. You can “pick” this up at any public restroom toilet handle, door handle, even faucet or consider your local gym where you grab ahold of various equipment which has been touched by several other sweaty people, or sit on a bench that other short clad sweaty people have sat on or grocery store cart handles. Moral of the story……not only wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap but turn off the faucets with the paper towel after drying hands, grab door handles with paper towel, flush toilet with either foot or toilet paper in hand, use bleach wipes on grocery cart handles if provided, sit on a towel on the bench at the gym. This type of MRSA is on the skin and presents itself as a pimple or infected hair or even a boil and gets redder and sorer over time. MRSA is treatable if diagnosed early.

  4. Wyvonnie Tubbs

    I have had first hand experience with MRSA as my dad just this past April contracted it and regular antibiotics would not help him, they put him on a very expensive high dose antibiotic that thank god cured him. And my mother in law god rest her soul just recently died of it in April. We have to do something about this or many more will die. I feel like no one cares, and I would not have known about this until I read this article and everthing that was said was what the doctors told me. They just left off the part that it was in the hospitals. My dad just had a boil on each leg while in the hospital these boils were filled with fluid, one burst and it looks like his leg is burned showing flesh and the other leg is a boil still filled with fluid, when he went into the hospital there was nothing on his legs when he was transported to the rehab that’s when we found them and we found it in his backside.
    The sad part is no one from the hospital would even discuss it with me.

    This is terrible, thank god the rehab knew what to do, they put antibiotic cream on his legs and covered them. I am speechless.

    • Anthony

      It is criminal how the hospital industry doesn’t protect the wellbeing of patients. My aunt went in for a laser kidney stone removal and she was infected with it. It went straight to her brain stem and she died with startling speed. She was completely healthy otherwise in her early 60s.

  5. Wyvonnie Tubbs

    Iam so happy that I have taken this course as I have looked up my dads diagnosis and now I know what he is being treated for. I have searched the web regarding the medications they have him on and the books I have received from my online learning is keeping me updated on the treatments that my father is getting. I guess his condition happened at a good time so this way I don’t have to depend on the doctors to talk in medical terms and not know what they are talking about. They think that I am a nurse because of the terminology I use when I talk to them. going to Allen school is the best thing that has happened to me.

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