Superbugs, or bacteria resistant to antibiotics, have been a hot topic in health over the past couple of years. And recently, researchers have found that some pigs carry a gene that creates a so-called superbug – and it could spread to humans.

The new information comes from a five-month study of a pig farm in the United States, carried out at the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus and published in the December 5th issue of the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

Although none of the pigs that were used for meat, or scheduled to be slaughtered, carried the gene, scientists are sure that the pigs have been exposed to it. And though no humans are at risk at the moment, they do worry that this could mean they will be in the future.

This new information could create a worldwide issue when it comes to commercial consumption of livestock.

The gene in question is known as bla IMP-27, which helps the body resist the antibiotic class known as carbapenems. Carbapenems are also known as last resort antibiotics for bacterial infections that have previously resisted treatment.

Researchers found the gene located within the breeding enclosure by taking fecal samples from the 1500 pigs who reside on this particular private farm. It was absent in the enclosure where pigs lived prior to their slaughter.

But how did it get there? Well, no one seems to know. They theorize it was carried in by equipment or people, but are troubled by the fact that there is no solid evidence as to its origins.

Lead author of the study, Thomas Wittum, stated:

“The spread of this particular resistant strain on this farm may be related to antibiotics used to treat sick pigs, for the same reason that resistant bacteria like these are present in human hospitals because of the way we treat sick people with antibiotics.

We can’t just stop treating the sick pigs with antibiotics because of the negative impact that would have on animal welfare. But it might be possible for the farm to use antibiotics in different ways to stop the spread of this particular strain.”

The researchers wrote in the study:

“The emergence of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has been described as heralding the end of the antibiotic era with their global expansion presenting an urgent threat to public health.”

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