Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacterium present on skin and in mucous membranes in 20-30% of healthy people. It may sometimes cause infections in humans, typically local skin and wound infections but occasionally more severe infections in the body. Some strains of this bacterium have, however, developed a resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics which includes penicillins and are used for the treatment of many infections. These are called Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Humans mainly acquire MRSA through direct contact between infected humans or contact with medical devices and equipment. MRSA is especially problematic in hospitals where patients with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of infection than the general public.
A specific MRSA strain (CC398) has been reported to occur in food-producing animals, most often in intensively reared pigs, veal calves and chickens, and has also been found in horses and companion animals. EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards found that food may be contaminated by CC398, but it has not been associated with food-borne intoxications. However, in areas where MRSA prevalence in food-producing animals is high, people in contact with live animals are at greater risk of acquiring CC398 than the general population, although infections are rare.
EFSA provides independent scientific support and advice to risk managers on the risks to human and animal health related to the possible emergence, spread and transfer of antimicrobial resistance in the food chain and in animal populations. EFSA takes an integrated approach to its work on antimicrobial resistance involving a number of its Scientific Panels and Units as it is a concern for the entire food chain.
In its work, EFSA cooperates closely with other relevant EU agencies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Monitoring and analysis of antimicrobial resistance in the food chain
EFSA monitors and analyses the situation on antimicrobial resistance in food and animals across Europe. The Authority is assisted by the Task Force on Zoonoses Data Collection: a pan-European network of national representatives of EU Member States, other reporting countries, as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Based on data collected by the EU Member States, EFSA produces in cooperation with ECDC annual European Union Summary Reports on zoonotic infections, food-borne outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance illustrating the evolving situation in Europe. EFSA also publishes baseline survey reports on the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in the EU in specific animal populations, for instance MRSA in pigs, and provides guidance to national authorities how to carry out their monitoring and reporting activities.
EFSA’s Scientific Panels review the annual reports and make recommendations on prevention and reduction measures.
Risk assessments and recommendations
EFSA’s Scientific Panels assess the risks of antimicrobial resistance and provides scientific advice on control options at the request of risk managers or on its own initiative. This work has included risk assessments by the Panel on Biological Hazards on antimicrobial resistance in the food and feed chain and the public health significance of MRSA in animals and food focusing on the specific type of MRSA found in food-producing animals. The Panel on additives and products or substances used in animal feed assesses the safety of animal feed additives, including the risks related to antibiotic resistance where micro-organisms are involved.
EFSA, ECDC, EMA and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) have also published a joint scientific opinion on antimicrobial resistance focused on infections that can be transmitted to humans from animals and food (i.e. zoonoses).
MRSA is a part of the EU policy on patient safety. In this legislation, EU actions include recommendations on preventing and controlling these infections and on the prudent use of antibiotics in human medicine.
ECDC monitors the evolution of healthcare-associated infections, including MRSA in Europe.
- Patient safety policy – European Commission, DG Health and Consumers
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)