Purdue University experts said a New York Times opinion piece published in the paper last week that tried to establish pigs as a source of MRSA infection for humans is "highly speculative."
MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), or antibiotic-resistant staph, can be found anywhere in nature, according to Paul Ebner, a Purdue livestock microbiologist. While he said there has been an increase in the number of these infections and that pigs and other animals can be carriers, the vast majority of infections come from skin-to-skin contact with infected humans.
Making assumptions based on limited studies or information is a big jump, and there is no proof to link MRSA in humans to pigs and pig operations at this time, said Ching Ching Wu, professor of veterinary pathobiology and head of microbiology in Purdue's Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory. Wu said there is more scientific evidence to support the spread of MRSA among humans and from humans to animals rather than from animals to humans.
A University of Iowa study mentioned in the Times column was a pilot study that looked at only two farms, with the organism found only on one of them. Another Dutch study was also inconclusive, according to the Purdue experts.
Both Ebner and Wu said that because MRSA is so prevalent, the best way to avoid infections is to always use proper hygiene.
Ebner, assistant professor of animal sciences, conducts research into microbiology issues associated with livestock, including food-safety and human-health implications. Wu researches infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance and is on the U.S. delegation to address antimicrobial resistance in food worldwide.
Click here to read the March 12 New York Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof, titled "Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health."