If you’ve heard of MRSA, you’ve also probably heard what a dangerous disease it is. It kills about 18,000 people every year and is prone to develop resistances to drugs.
Now, researchers have found the “superbug” in wild animal species. MRSA isn’t uncommon in livestock and domesticated animals, but this is the first evidence of the drug-resistant strain in wildlife.
Epidemiologist Tara Smith of the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health examined 114 animals at the Wildlife Care Clinic at Iowa State University in Ames. Orphaned deer, birds, rabbits and other animals were tested for diseases. Of those 114, 6.1 percent had a strain of S. aureus (MRSA) that could be killed with an antibiotic. But 2.6 percent had the drug-resistant strain of MRSA.
MRSA tends to be a bigger problem for hospital patients. Try as the staff might to maintain a sterile environment, there’s no escaping all the bacteria moving around a hospital, and the use of even more drugs gives MRSA cells the added incentive to develop resistance. So how did it end up in the animals in Ames?
Of the three animals with a drug-resistant strain of MRSA, a migratory shorebird had the strain associated with hospitals, which it possibly picked up from hospital waste. The two others, which were rabbits, most likely picked theirs up from other rabbits.
Now the question remains as to if and how wildlife can infect humans with the drug-resistant strains. MRSA is largely asymptomatic in other animals, so they can go around carrying it and be perfectly healthy. But for humans, it’s a life-threatening disease. Researchers say they have a lot more work to do to find the link if it does exist.