News / Africa

Industrial Livestock Farms Linked to Staph

Johns Hopkins Assistant Professor Christopher Heaney is researching links between industrial farms and presence of potentially harmful germs. (Credit: Johns Hopkins)
Johns Hopkins Assistant Professor Christopher Heaney is researching links between industrial farms and presence of potentially harmful germs. (Credit: Johns Hopkins)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
As economies grow in developing countries, more of them are adopting a Western-style diet. That means eating a lot more meat. As a result, the number of industrial or factory livestock farms has increased. But new research is raising health questions about those farms, which treat animals with antibiotics.


Industrial or factory farms raise large numbers of animals often in very confined buildings. Antibiotics are used in the animals’ feed and water – not just to cure illness – but to help speed growth. But there’s a difference between workers on industrial farms and those employed at farms that do not use antibiotics.

Drug-resistant bacteria were found in the noses of industrial livestock workers in the southern U.S. state of North Carolina. These bacteria are commonly called staph.  However, no such bacteria were found in those employed on antibiotic-free farms.

North Carolina is a major producer of hogs and poultry. Industrial livestock farms use large confinement buildings, while antibiotic-free farms generally raise animals outdoors on pastureland.

Study co-author Christopher Heaney said concerns had been raised by community groups and researchers, not only in North Carolina, but even earlier in the Midwestern state of Iowa. 

“This work built on those community-driven discussions around air pollution and concerns with odor and health and quality of life. There were questions developing about concerns of people, who are working to help produce livestock – questions around exposures that these workers may be experiencing.”

Heaney is assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Similar concerns had been raised abroad, as well.

“As scientists, we were following the emerging story in Europe, which had shown that there was a new strain, or a new sequence type, of staph aureus bacteria, with particular drug resistance to methicillin, known as MRSA. And these previous studies in Europe had detected new strains of drug resistant staph aureus from livestock, first among farmworkers and subsequently in hospital and community settings,” he said.

MRSA is found most often in hospitals or other health-related facilities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says MRSA can contaminate bed linens, bed rails, bathroom fixtures and medical equipment. Symptoms include fever, chills and boils. In severe cases, mortality rates can be as high as 50 percent.

Heaney said, “The workers participating in our study were not experiencing staph infections at the time of the study. But when antibiotic resistant bacteria do cause infections they can be harder to treat. And we do know that staph aureus is an opportunistic pathogen. It can also be present in the absence of any disease or any symptoms.”

Heaney described it as “remarkable” that staph aureus bacteria were not found in the noses of those working on farms not using antibiotics.

“While everyone in the study had direct or indirect contact with livestock, only industrial workers carried antibiotic resistant staph aureus with multiple genetic characteristics linked to livestock. This means that we did not observe that the antibiotic-free workers were carrying these livestock associated strains of staph aureus, as they’re called, with characteristics of antibiotic resistance,” he said.

But why the difference?

“That’s a good question,” he said,  “And I think we’re going to need to spend a lot of time in the future developing studies to try and address these questions. We’ve taken some important first steps, but I think we still need to continue to generate information and generate knowledge to help better understand the dynamics of livestock production with versus without the use of antibiotics.”
Some other big unanswered questions include:  Are industrial farmworkers – those with staph aureus bacteria in their noses – actually at greater risk of developing an infection? And could livestock-related staph germs find their way into hospitals and communities similar to what happened in Europe? Heaney said that more studies are also needed to answer those questions.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs