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MRSA arose in nature before human and livestock use of antibiotics
Up to 60 per cent of hedgehogs carry a type of MRSA called mecC-MRSA.

Hedgehogs have carried the superbug long before human antibiotic use. 

Scientists at the University of Cambridge, along with other international institutions, have discovered that a type of MRSA arose in hedgehogs and existed in nature 200 years before the use of antibiotics in humans and livestock.

Human and livestock use of antibiotics has traditionally been blamed for the emergence of the antibiotic resistant superbug, however, these new findings suggest that the initial emergence of MRSA was a natural biological process. 

Hedgehog surveys from Denmark and Sweden discovered that up to 60 per cent of hedgehogs carry a type of MRSA called mecC-MRSA, while high levels of MRSA were discovered on hedgehogs across Europe and New Zealand. 

Senior author of the study, Dr Ewan Harrison, said: “Using sequencing technology we have traced the genes that give mecC-MRSA its antibiotic resistance all the way back to their first appearance, and found they were around in the nineteenth century.

“Our study suggests that it wasn’t the use of penicillin that drove the initial emergence of MRSA, it was a natural biological process. We think MRSA evolved in a battle for survival on the skin of hedgehogs, and subsequently spread to livestock and humans through direct contact.”

The current thinking is that this antibiotic resistance evolved in Staphylococcus aureus as an adaptation to existing alongside the fungus Trichophyton erinacei on the skin of hedgehogs, which produces its own antibiotics.

Professor Mark Holmes, senior author of the report and researcher at the University of Cambridge, commented on how the study supports careful use of antibiotics to lessen the significant threat to human health that MRSA poses: “This study is a stark warning that when we use antibiotics, we have to use them with care. 

“There’s a very big wildlife ‘reservoir’ where antibiotic-resistant bacteria can survive – and from there it’s a short step for them to be picked up by livestock, and then to infect humans.” 

Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen of WildCRU, University of Oxford, and co-author of the study explains: "Even though this finding is news to us, the hedgehogs have carried this bacterium for at least 200 years without causing any major infections in humans.

"Therefore, the advice is as always, to appreciate and support the hedgehogs entering your garden and to maintain a good hand hygiene when feeding and possibly handling hedgehogs. Both for the sake of the hedgehogs and ourselves."

Published in Nature, the study 'Emergence of methicillin resistance predates the clinical use of antibiotics' is a collaborative effort including the University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Sanger Insitute, Denmark's Serum Statens Institut and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and is free-to-access. 

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VET Festival returns for 2022

News Story 1
 VET Festival, the unique CPD opportunity, is returning for 2022, running from 20 to 21 May.

The outdoor event, held at Loseley Park in Guildford, will feature 17 education streams, with a dedicated stream covering veterinary wellness, leadership and management topics. The festival will feature veterinary speakers from around the world, with the opportunity to collect 14 hours of CPD across the two-day event.

Alongside veterinary education, VET Festival will also offer wellbeing activities such as yoga and mindfulness activities, with the popular VETFest Live Party Night making a return for 2022.

Tickets available here.  

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A free webinar is being held by Volac to help dairy farmers rear better heifers. Marking the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board's (AHDB) 'Great British Calf Week', the webinar is scheduled to take place at 12.15pm - 1.45pm on Thursday 3 February 2022.

Focusing on the management input needed to produce better heifers, the webinar will explore practical tips for better calf rearing, sustainable growth through effective calf nutrition, and the importance of sustainable ingredients in calf milk formulas.

Anyone interested in attending can register here.