FRIDAY, Sept. 23, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers in Denmark have identified a new form of the superbug known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that they suspect may be spread through eating contaminated poultry.
People who raise livestock are known to face a higher risk for MRSA, the researchers said. But, the new strain infected 10 urban-dwelling people who hadn't been working on a farm and had no direct contact with live farm animals.
Instead, the researchers believe the MRSA patients were infected after eating or handling poultry that had been imported from other European countries.
"This is one of the first studies providing compelling evidence that everyday consumers are also potentially at risk," study author Lance Price said in a news release from George Washington University (GWU), in Washington, D.C.
Price serves as director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center based at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at GWU, one of 25 institutions that participated in the current study. Price is also director of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Flagstaff, Ariz., another institution involved in the study.
MRSA is a bacteria resistant to many antibiotics. MRSA can cause a host of health problems ranging from skin infections and sepsis to pneumonia to bloodstream infections, according to U.S. health officials.
Investigators said the new strain of MRSA isn't found in Danish livestock.
Nevertheless, all 10 Danish patients ended up with the same virtually identical strain. That strongly suggests a common source of infection imported from outside the country, the researchers said.
That source, the study team said, is likely poultry that has been raised on low doses of antibiotics, a common practice used to encourage animal growth and minimize their risk of disease when kept in unsanitary crowded conditions.
"Our findings implicate poultry meat as a source for these infections," said study leader Dr. Robert Skov from the Statens Serum Institut -- a Danish agency similar to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"At present, meat products represent only a minor transmission route for MRSA to humans," Skov said. He added that these findings underscore the importance of reducing the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals.
Skov's work was funded in part by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The findings were published online in the Sept. 21 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
There's more on MRSA at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.