New Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests that some workers at industrial hog production facilities are not only carrying livestock-associated, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their noses, but may also be developing skin infections from these bacteria.
The findings are published November 16 in PLOS ONE.
“Before this study, we knew that many hog workers were carrying livestock-associated and multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains in their noses, but we didn’t know what that meant in terms of worker health,” says study leader Dr. Christopher D. Heaney, an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School’s departments of Environmental Health and Engineering, and Epidemiology. “It wasn’t clear whether hog workers carrying these bacteria might be at increased risk of infection. This study suggests that carrying these bacteria may not always be harmless to humans.”
Because the study was small, the researchers say there is a need to confirm the findings, but the results highlight the need to identify ways to protect workers from being exposed to these bacteria on the job, and to take a fresh look at antibiotic use and resistance in food animal production. Hogs are given antibiotics in order to grow them more quickly for sale, and the overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the development of bacteria that are resistant to many of the drugs used to treat staph infections.
The researchers, involving collaborators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help in Warsaw, NC, and the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, enrolled 103 hog workers in North Carolina and 80 members of their households (either children or other adults) to have their noses swabbed to determine whether they were carrying strains of S. aureus in their nasal passages. Each person was also shown pictures of skin and soft tissue infections caused by S. aureus and asked if they had developed those symptoms in the previous three months.