PARMA, ITALY — A joint scientific report on meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (M.R.S.A.) in livestock, pets and foods was recently published by the European Food Safety Authority (E.F.S.A.), European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (E.C.D.C.) and the European Medicines Agency (E.M.E.A.) following a request from the European Commission.

E.F.S.A.’s Panel on Biological Hazards and E.C.D.C. concluded food-producing animals, such as pigs, veal calves and broiler chickens, often carry a specific strain of M.R.S.A. called CC398, without symptoms. However, while food may be contaminated by M.R.S.A., there is currently no evidence that eating or handling contaminated food can lead to an increased health risk for humans.

People in contact with live animals that carry the CC398 strain of M.R.S.A. could be at risk of infection, the study further noted. This specific strain of M.R.S.A. has been associated, although rarely, with serious skin and soft tissue infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning in humans.

The document states the importance of basic hygiene measures, especially hand washing before and after contact with animals, and if possible, avoiding direct contact with nasal secretions, saliva and wounds.

As animal movement and contact between live animals and humans are likely to be important factors in the transmission of MRSA, the most effective control measures will be at farm level, the study concluded.

The European Medicines Agency also looked at the risk of colonization or infection of livestock and companion animals with M.R.S.A. in the context of the authorization and the use of antimicrobial veterinary medicines. M.R.S.A. is resistant to virtually all antibiotics from the beta-lactam group, and very often also to other antimicrobials, the Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (C.V.M.P.) determined. Prudent use of antimicrobials in animals should remain a key measure and the C.V.M.P. recommended monitoring of animal consumption of antimicrobials to identify any sources of unnecessary use.

Medicines of last resort for M.R.S.A. treatment in humans should be avoided in animals, so as to ensure their continued efficacy in humans, the committee also recommended.

M.R.S.A. infections are widespread in hospitals in many E.U. countries and are a major cause of hospital-acquired infections, which can lead to severe illness and in some cases fatalities. In recent years, a link has been established between M.R.S.A. in animals and human M.R.S.A. infections.

In some areas of the E.U. where M.R.S.A. is found among food-producing animals, people in contact with these animals, such as farmers, veterinarians and their families, are at risk of acquiring an M.R.S.A. infection.