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Exposure to S. aureus, Persistent Colonization of Vets is Common but Rarely Associated With Disease

People working with pigs are at elevated risk of harboring methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) in their nose, which is attributable to occupational exposure to animals harboring livestock adapted S. aureus. To obtain insight into the biological nature of occupationally related nasal culture positivity, Sun, et al. (2017)conducted a longitudinal study of 66 swine veterinarians in the U.S.

The study cohort resided in 15 U.S. states and worked predominantly with swine. Monthly for 18 months, participants self-collected nasal swabs and completed a survey to report recent exposure to pigs and other animals; the occurrence of work related injuries; and any relevant health events such as skin and soft tissue infections or confirmed staphylococcal infections. Nasal swabs were cultured using selective methods to determine the presence of MRSA and methicillin susceptible S. aureus (MSSA), and isolates were characterized by spa typing and MLST.

Prevalence of S. aureus (64%, monthly range from 58 to 82%) and MRSA (9.5%; monthly range from 6 to15%) were higher than reported for the US population (30% and 1.5% respectively). Predominant spa types were t034 (ST398, 37%), t002 (ST5, 17%) and t337 (ST9/ST398 13%), a distribution similar to that found in a concurrent study in pigs in the USA. Veterinarians were classified into three groups: Persistent carriers (PC, 52%), Intermittent carriers (IC, 47%) and Non-carriers (NC, 1%). Persistent carriage of a single spa type was observed in 14 (21%) of participants, and paired (first and last) isolates from PC subjects had minor genetic differences. Swabs from PC veterinarians carried higher numbers of S. aureus. Among IC veterinarians, culture positivity was significantly associated with recent contact with pigs.

The researchers concluded that exposure to pigs did not lead to prolonged colonization in most subjects, and the higher numbers of S. aureus in PC subjects suggests that unknown host factors may determine the likelihood of prolonged colonization by S. aureus of livestock origin. Exposure to S. aureus and persistent colonization of swine veterinarians was common but rarely associated with S. aureus disease.

Reference: Sun J, Yang M, et al. Longitudinal study of Staphylococcus aureus colonization and infection in a cohort of swine veterinarians in the United States
BMC Infectious Diseases. 2017;17:690

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