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Medicine United Kingdom Science

New Superbug Strain Found In Cows and People 144

Posted by Soulskill
from the biological-warfare-in-the-bovine-revolution dept.
sciencehabit writes "A novel form of deadly drug-resistant bacteria that hides from a standard test has turned up in Europe. Researchers found the so-called MRSA strain in both dairy cows and humans in the United Kingdom, suggesting that it might be passed from dairies to the general population. But before you toss your milk, don't panic: The superbug isn't a concern in pasteurized dairy products."
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New Superbug Strain Found In Cows and People

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  • Re:US cheese (Score:4, Informative)

    by cvtan (752695) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @07:36PM (#36338906)
    I can buy unpasteurized milk (and maybe yogurt) at the local farmers market, but I think you are right about the cheese (and butter). FYI and off topic: Taste testers at America's Test Kitchen showed that organic milk has a taste inferior to "normal" milk because it has to be pasteurized at a higher temperature.
  • by ridgecritter (934252) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @07:50PM (#36338982)

    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/06/new-superbug-found-in-cows-and-p.html?ref=hp [sciencemag.org]

    A novel form of deadly drug-resistant bacteria that hides from a standard test has turned up in Europe. Researchers found the so-called MRSA strain in both dairy cows and humans in the United Kingdom, suggesting that it might be passed from dairies to the general population. But before you toss your milk, don't panic: The superbug isn't a concern in pasteurized dairy products.

    MRSA, short for meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a drug-resistant form of the widespread and normally harmless S. aureus bacteria. Many people walk around with MRSA in their noses or on their skin yet don't get sick. But in some hospital patients and people with weakened immune systems, MRSA thrives, and it is blamed for about 19,000 hospital deaths a year in the United States.

    Mark Holmes of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and colleagues stumbled upon the new strain while studying mastitis, or infected udders, in U.K. dairy cows. Some milk samples from sick cows contained S. aureus bacteria that grew in the presence of antibiotics, which is one test for MRSAs. Yet the same samples turned up negative for the drug-defying bacterium when the team used PCR, a DNA amplification technique, to detect a gene called mecA, which is found in all MRSA strains.

    The PCR test doesn't always pick up variants of the gene it's meant to detect, however. To check this, the researchers sent a cow S. aureus sample to the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, which sequenced the bacterium's entire genome. "Lo and behold, there was a mecA gene there," one whose sequence overlapped with the better-known mecA by a surprisingly low 60%, Holmes said today in a press conference.

    The researchers then looked for this mecA gene in people. They tested 74 samples of S. aureus isolated from people from the United Kingdom and Denmark that were drug resistant in the antibiotic growth test but not in the PCR test—most from carriers but some from patients who were sickened by MRSA. They found the new mecA in about two-thirds of the samples, they report today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. A nearly identical mecA gene has also now been reported in human samples from Germany and Ireland.

    The strain is still relatively rare—it probably makes up less than 1% of all detected MRSA cases, the U.K. team says. But its prevalence appears to have risen in the past decade. "More likely it's been around in the environment for a long time, and it's just getting into the human population," says University College Dublin microbiologist David Coleman, whose team reports on the Irish samples today in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

    The new superbug probably isn't leading to missed infections, at least in the United Kingdom, because hospitals that suspect a patient is infected with an MRSA nearly always use the antibiotic growth test in addition to PCR, Holmes says. (Patients with a confirmed infection then receive antibiotics that work on MRSAs.) However, many hospitals in continental Europe are moving toward using only PCR tests; this is a warning that those tests need to be modified to test for the new mecA gene, Holmes says.

    The study also points to dairy cows as a possible reservoir for the bug, just as pigs seem to pass MRSA to humans in the Netherlands. The bug probably doesn't get to humans through the milk supply, because almost all milk in the United Kingdom and Denmark is pasteurized, a process that kills bacteria. But workers who come into contact with infected dairy cows could be carriers. Holmes's team reports "circumstantial evidence" for this, such as the fact that genetic subtypes of the human and cow samples from the same geographical areas were nearly identical. "The main worry would be that these cows represent a pool of the bacteria" that farm workers spread into the human popula

  • Re:Evolving (Score:5, Informative)

    by tsotha (720379) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:57PM (#36339314)

    Because the mechanisms that allow a bacteria to survive exposure to a given antibiotic come at a cost. It's not the genes themselves that confer resistance - it's the expression of those genes. And the same process that introduced the resistance-conferring gene works to eliminate it if it's no longer needed.

    For example, there is a class of antibiotics that work by dissolving the bacterial cell wall. After repeated exposure germs evolve thicker cell walls, which makes this class of antibiotics less and less effective. But in its absence the thicker-walled bacteria version will be out-competed by its thinner-walled brethren, since thin walls are less resource intensive.

    For the most part the antibiotics we use are just synthetic versions of chemicals secreted by various organisms (bacteria and fungi, mostly). If bacteria could pass down cost-free resistance they'd already be immune to anything we could throw at them.

  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @09:03PM (#36339338) Journal

    Personally? I'd lay more blame at the generation of people who use the antibacterial handsoaps/wipes/lotions/etc for contributing to this mess than anything. And I'll say it again. I fucking told you, that you'd doom us all.

    Triclosan use doesn't promote bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

  • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Saturday June 04, 2011 @09:08PM (#36339364) Homepage

    Really now? You could just use google and have saved me the 10 seconds to point out what I already knew what right. It does indeed promote bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

    http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/54/3/621.short [oxfordjournals.org]

  • by compro01 (777531) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @09:56PM (#36339586)

    Yes, many diseases were transmitted via unpasteurized milk, particularly tuberculosis.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @12:01AM (#36340084) Journal

    Unless you're two days old that's, bullshit. All protein is broken down into amino acid chains before absorption.

    If that were true, then scrapie, BSE (mad cow disease), and other transmissible encephalopathies would not exist.

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