Is pork really safe?

A summary of an article from NYTimes correspondent Nicholas Kristoff 3/12/09

MRSA is back in the news: Apparently pigs are now a source of infection! Doctors are reporting strange rashes on their patients. And The New York Times (3/12/09) reported that doctors are seeing “ innocuous bumps” that rapidly became huge red angry and painful lesions.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has generated a lot of press as the “flesh-eating bacteria.” Parents wonder if they need to travel through the playground with Purell and the general public is condemning doctors for creating superbugs by overprescribing antibiotics to their patients. Medically, the biggest concern is for hospitalized patients who are already ill and immune compromised, and are uniquely susceptible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov) reported that by 2005, MRSA was killing more than 18,000 Americans a year, more than AIDS, according to the recent NYT review.

But recently, there seems to be cases of MRSA transmitted from pigs to humans. According to the recent review, the suspicion that pigs could infect people with MRSA came in the Netherlands in 2004, when a young woman tested positive for a new strain of MRSA, called ST398. The family were farmers and the public health authorities found that three family members, three co-workers and 8 of 10 pigs tested all carried MRSA.
Since then, that strain of MRSA has been found in throughout the Netherlands. Studies showed that pig farmers there were 760 times more likely than the general population to carry MRSA and Scientific American reports that this strain of MRSA has bee documented in over 10% percent of Dutch retail pork samples.
According to the NYTimes report, this same strain of MRSA has now been documented in the United States. According to Tara Smith, a University of Iowa epidemiologist 45 percent of pig farmers sampled carried MRSA.

What does this mean for you and your child?

As always, pork needs to be handled with care, and cooked thoroughly. Wash hands well with hot water and soap after handling raw meat. Don’t eat pork outside the home in a restaurant of dubious quality. And alert your child’s doctor immediately if he/she has an unusual rash.

Natalie Geary