The BBC just reported an outbreak of MRSA in turkeys on a farm in England. It said that two thirds of the farm turkeys were infected and that hundreds of them had already been sold to the public.
The Department of Health says the risk to the public is low because the strain of MRSA found in turkeys, what they call livestock-associated MRSA (LA-MRSA), is different than the MRSA found in hospitals, and (so far) has “rarely” caused disease in humans.
However, two US studies recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Public Library of Science give us reason to question the low-risk-to-humans position taken by the DH.
The US researchers looked at whether factory farming methods were leading to an increased incidence of MRSA in farm workers in the one study, and to people in nearby communities, in the other study. In both cases they found a significant rise in MRSA rates. Moreover, in the farm worker study, they found significant amounts of LA-MRSA only on workers from factory farms and no LA-MRSA in the control group, workers on traditional farms.
In other words, MRSA and LA-MRSA travels from the animals and the farm to people living and working nearby. It should be pointed out that the animals in both of these studies were pigs, thus giving rise among scientists to calling this strain of MRSA, Pig-MRSA.
Which leaves us with this question: if MRSA goes from pigs to humans, why wouldn’t it also go from turkeys to humans?
It’s a question that wasn’t put to the Department of Health.