MRSA Football and Industrial Farms

What is MRSA?

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of bacteria that can infect a person’s skin, bones, lungs, heart, brain, and blood. Unlike common staph, MRSA does not respond to traditional antibiotics such as penicillin, making it more difficult and costlier to treat, and more lethal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, MRSA is responsible for more than 11,000 deaths and 80,000 “invasive” illnesses in the United States, plus “an unknown but much higher number of less severe infections.” There are no federal or state requirements to report MRSA infections.

Although this disease started spreading in hospitals decades ago, people are now more likely to contract MRSA in their communities. The CDC lists five factors, known as “the 5 C’s,” that make a setting conducive to the spread of MRSA:

  • Crowding.
  • Frequent skin-to-skin Contact.
  • Compromised skin, such as cuts or abrasions.
  • Contaminated items and surfaces.
  • Lack of Cleanliness.

The CDC says: “Locations where the 5 C's are common include schools, dormitories, military barracks, households, correctional facilities, and daycare centers.”

MRSA is also associated with contact sports. The first reports of community-acquired MRSA infections among athletes emerged in the 1990s with high school wrestlers in Vermont and professional rugby players in the United Kingdom.

MRSA and football

According to a survey of National Football League physicians, 33 players contracted MRSA between 2006 and 2008. During the 2013 season, three players on one team alone were sidelined with the disease.

One infectious disease expert estimated that football players are 10 to 15 times more likely than the general population to become infected with MRSA.

The worst and most unexpected thing that I have come up against in my football career has been a tiny little thing that I cannot see. take away.— Brandon Noble, a former NFL defensive tackle who suffered recurring MRSA infections in his knee, as told to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

More news on MRSA and professional football:

MRSA and industrial farms

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that some strains of MRSA also originate on industrial farms—another area where the 5 C’s are prevalent—and are spreading to people. In 2004, MRSA was found in an infant in the Netherlands, and the strain was traced to the livestock on the farm where she lived. In 2009, livestock-associated strains of MRSA were found on farms and farmers in the United States. The American Veterinary Medical Association says that veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and farmers are at higher risk of MRSA infection than the general population. More specifically:

  • A February 2012 study used DNA fingerprinting to trace the birth of one strain of MRSA to large agricultural operations in the Netherlands. The researchers concluded that bacteria in hogs acquired resistance after the animals were given antibiotics as part of the pork production process. The resistant bugs, the study noted, then spread from pigs to people.
  • A July 2013 study found that people who worked on industrial farms that routinely used antibiotics had MRSA in their airways at double the rate of employees at farms not using antibiotics.
  • A November 2013 study found that people living near hog farms or croplands where hog manure was used as fertilizer were more likely to carry or be infected with MRSA. “These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production,” the researchers concluded.
  • A February 2014 study found that VA hospital patients in Iowa were about 3 times more likely to carry MRSA if they lived within one mile of an industrial farm with more than 2,500 hogs.

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