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Outside the Lab Microbiology and immunology, Profession, Screening and monitoring, Regulation and standards

A Pig In a Poke

Cast your mind back a few hours to the beginning of your day. How did you start it off? For many of you, the answer will include a bacon sandwich – ham and eggs – breakfast sausage. These kinds of hearty foods can make for a comforting breakfast – but perhaps somewhat less comforting once you consider the high rates of livestock-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (LA-MRSA) in much of Europe’s pork supply.

Where does this superbug come from? In large part, Denmark, where as much as two-thirds of the pig herd may be infected (1). Because the animals are not tested for LA-MRSA before export and there’s no mandatory reporting of the disease, Danish pigs – which account for well over half of European pig exports for both food and breeding – are able to travel the continent unchecked, and with an unwelcome travel companion. Worse yet, the bacterium doesn’t just cause disease in pigs; it’s capable of infecting humans as well, and when it does, it’s extremely difficult to treat.

So what’s being done to combat LA-MRSA in Denmark? At the moment, not much. There’s little in the way of regulation and many Danish exporters are adamantly opposed to introducing more. Meanwhile, infected pigs continue to be distributed across Europe at the rate of millions every year. It’s clear that better screening and stewardship are needed to prevent the spread of this serious superbug – and that if the livestock industry won’t stand up against it, others who understand the danger must.

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  1. K Hansen, “Something is rotten in Denmark’s pig industry” (2016). Available at: bit.ly/2dj4tse. Accessed October 15, 2016.
About the Author
Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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