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Resistant Bacteria Found for First Time on UK Poultry Farm

27 November 2013

UK - Antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria have been found for the first time in farm livestock at a poultry farm in East Anglia.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has identified the presence of Livestock-Associated Meticillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (LA-MRSA) in poultry on a farm in East Anglia.

LA-MRSA is not the same as those that cause the healthcare associated infections that affect people. The risk of getting LA-MRSA from eating poultry meat is very low if the meat is handled hygienically and cooked thoroughly to kill any bacteria. The risk of the general public catching LA-MRSA from an animal is also very low.

Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the Food Standards Agency said: "Any risk of contracting MRSA through meat from animals with these bacteria is very low when usual good hygiene and thorough cooking practices are observed. All poultry should be handled hygienically and cooked thoroughly to destroy any bacteria that may be present."

Professor Angela Kearns, Head of the Staphylococcus Reference service at Public Health England said: "There are many different strains of MRSA that cause illness in people but this is not one of the strains that we are overly concerned about given the very low number of clinical infections that have been seen in people."

This strain of bacteria is relatively widespread in livestock in Europe, including countries from which meat is regularly sourced by the UK. There are no known cases of people contracting MRSA from eating meat.

LA-MRSA rarely causes disease in people and in most cases the bacteria clear within 24 hours. It can potentially pass from animals to humans through direct contact or through dust in animal housing and is therefore primarily an occupational risk for those in contact with affected livestock.

Once the poultry have been slaughtered and sold the owner will carry out cleansing and disinfection of their accommodation to ensure the next birds do not become colonised when they arrive on site. The AHVLA will revisit the farm after depopulation and thorough cleansing and disinfection to determine whether LA-MRSA is still present.

AHVLA carried out surveillance on the farm on behalf of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

Professor Peter Borriello, Chief Executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, said: "LA-MRSA has been identified in livestock in a number of countries and is not considered to represent a significant risk to animal health and welfare. We conduct an extensive programme to monitor antibiotic resistance in bacteria from animals, through samples submitted to AHVLA regional laboratories. We carefully consider all cases of resistance identified to establish if these present any risk to human or animal health."

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