Second Annual Great Plains Emerging Infectious Diseases Conference

For those of you in the general vicinity, the University of Iowa Department of Epidemiology will be once again sponsoring the Great Plains Emerging Infectious Diseases Conference on April 19-20 in Iowa City. This year’s keynote speaker will be Dr. Peter Daszak, President of the EcoHealth Alliance:

Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, is a leader in the field of conservation medicine and a respected disease ecologist. EcoHealth Alliance is a global organization dedicated to innovative conservation science linking ecology and the health of humans and wildlife. EcoHealth Alliance’s mission is to provide scientists and educators with support for grassroots conservation efforts in 20 high-biodiversity countries in North America, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

As Executive Vice President of Health at EcoHealth Alliance, Dr. Daszak directed a program of collaborative research, education, and conservation policy. The program examined the role of wildlife trade in disease introduction; the emergence of novel zoonotic viruses lethal to humans such as Nipah, Hendra, SARS, and Avian Influenza; the role of diseases in the global decline of amphibian populations; and the ecology and impact of West Nile virus in the U.S. Dr. Daszak holds adjunct positions at three U.S. and two U.K. universities and serves on the National Research Council’s committee on the future of veterinary research in the U.S.

Like last year, we will also be having breakout sessions in an “unconference” format–loosely moderated by discussion leaders. If you’re thinking of attending the conference and would like to suggest or lead a session, please leave a comment or drop me a line (tara dash smith at uiowa dot edu). Looking forward to seeing some readers here in April!

Great Plains Emerging Infectious Diseases Conference–Registration Open

I mentioned last month that we are planning an Emerging Diseases conference here in April. Things are moving quickly and registration is now open (here). Abstract submission is also up and running here.

The details:

Oral and poster presentation research abstracts are due by 5:00pm on March 23, 2012. Individuals may submit up to two research abstracts. Abstracts must not exceed 250 words in length. There are a limited number of spots available for those interested in providing a 15-minute oral presentation. Abstracts submitted for oral presentations that are not selected for a talk will automatically be considered for the poster session. Please do not submit an abstract if your attendance is questionable. Confirmation of participation must be received no later than April 1, 2012.

Monetary awards will be conferred upon the top three student presentations (oral or poster).

Authors will be notified of the review committee’s decision by April 2, 2012.

If you have any questions regarding the conference, registration, or abstract submission, drop me a line or visit the conference website. We’re also still accepting ideas for breakout sessions in an unconference format, so feel free to contact me about thoughts for those as well. Hope to see some of you there!

Great Plains Emerging Diseases Conference

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had two pending announcements; now I can officially share the second. We’re putting on an Emerging Infectious Diseases conference here in Iowa City April 27-8th, and the Keynote speaker will be Ian Lipkin, a world leader in the field of viral discovery and most recently, a consultant for the Stephen Soderbergh movie “Contagion.”

For the conference itself, it will be a regular research conference in one sense (abstract submission, poster presentations), but much of it will be done in “unconference” format a la ScienceOnline. We’re working on finishing the website etc. and that will be available soon, but in the meantime, I’d love it if those in the area could assist with word-of-mouth via this “save the date” flyer. If you have any interest in helping out, suggesting session topics, or any general questions, feel free to pose them below. Looking forward to seeing some of you here in Iowa!

MRSA in pork products: does the “antibiotic-free” label make a difference?

Back in November, I blogged about one of our studies, examining methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in Iowa meat products. In that post, I mentioned that it was one of two studies we’d finished on the subject. Well, today the second study is out in PLoS ONE (freely available to all). In this study, we focused only on pork products, and included 395 samples from Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. We also looked at not only conventional meats, but also “alternative” meat products. Most of the latter were products labeled “raised without antibiotics” or “raised without antibiotic growth promotants”–in the markets we tested, very few USDA-certified organic products were available unfrozen, and we were looking for fresh meat products.

In our previous paper, we found MRSA on 1.2% of 165 meat samples. In the current study, we found a higher prevalence–6.6% of 395 samples were contaminated with MRSA. (More about the differences in methods between our two studies later). Interestingly, we didn’t find a statistically significant difference in MRSA prevalence on conventional versus alternative pork products–a finding that surprised me, as it contradicts what we’ve found to date looking at the sources of this meat–conventional versus “alternative” pig farms. Other groups have also found differences on-farm versus on-meat: a 2011 study looking at feedlot cattle didn’t find any MRSA in animal samples, though the same group found MRSA in beef products. So, our disparate findings between farms and meat samples are not unheard-of. However, even though our sample size was larger than other U.S. studies to date, it was still fairly small overall–300 conventional and 95 alternative pork samples over a 4-week sampling period from 3 states, so larger multi-state studies are needed to further examine this angle.

It also suggests that we need processing plants and packing companies to work with us to determine where products are being contaminated–because while there may be arguments about the public health importance of MRSA on meats (or lack thereof), it’s very likely that if S. aureus are ending up on meat products, other pathogens are as well.

What does the molecular typing tell us, speaking of contamination source? We carried out analyses on all the MRSA and found that the most common type of MRSA was ST398, the “livestock” strain that we previously found on pig farms in the U.S. We also found two “human” types were common: USA300 (a “community-associated” strain) and USA100 (typically considered a “hospital-associated” strain). In the simplest analysis of these findings, these molecular types (a combination of “human” and “pig” strains) suggests that MRSA on raw pork products may be coming both from farms and from food handlers. However, in real life, it’s not quite so straightforward. USA100 types have also been found in live pigs. So has USA300. As such, the source of contamination and relative contributions of live pigs versus human meat handlers currently isn’t certain.

Within the MRSA strains, we found high levels of antibiotic resistance, similar to what was reported in the recent Waters et al. study. In ours, 76.9% were resistant to two or more antibiotics and 38.5% were resistant to three or more antibiotics tested. (I’ll note that we only had funding to test the MRSA–we weren’t able to do these tests on all the methiciin-susceptible strains).

Did MRSA prevalence increase in the period between our first study (spring 2009) and this one (late summer/fall 2010)? I doubt it. For this paper, we used a different sampling method, adding the samples to a sterile stomacher bag so that the entire sample was immersed in the culture medium; for the first paper we used external swabbing and so likely didn’t capture as many bacteria. This current study more likely represents the “true” MRSA prevalence. But–all isolates were only called as positive/negative, and we didn’t measure the number of bacteria on each piece of meat. So, there theoretically could have been just a few colonies of MRSA on the entire piece of meat, and that would have been called a positive sample, while another meat product covered with hundreds of MRSA would have been put in the same category. Therefore, more subtle differences may exist that we didn’t pick up in this study, but we will examine in other ongoing studies.

So–what’s the take-home here? Don’t assume that any meat product is contamination-free, and always use good food handling/cooking practices when dealing with raw meats. As far as the titular question, well, we’re still hashing that one out.

References

Hanson et al. Prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on retail meat in Iowa.

Waters et al. Multidrug-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in US Meat and Poultry.

O’Brien et al. MRSA in conventional and alternative retail pork products.

Lin et al. Evidence of multiple virulence subtypes in nosocomial and community-associated MRSA genotypes in companion animals from the upper midwestern and northeastern United States.

Weese et al. The Prevalence of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Colonization in Feedlot Cattle.

Weese et al. Detection and quantification of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) clones in retail meat products.

Quick updates

The University of Iowa press office did a nice story on our recent article showing “livestock-associated” S. aureus in a daycare worker in Iowa. LabSpaces covers it here.

I started a new Facebook page for our research center, the University of Iowa Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. Join up for research updates! We’ll have a lot coming up this summer.

And on that note, soon we’ll have a new Research Assistant starting at the Center: Megan Quick, who was featured today on in the “Photo of the Month” on the Association for Schools of Public Health website.

Have a few blog posts percolating but real life has been getting in the way; more next week!

Iowa investigating two “probable” swine flu cases

It was only a matter of time:

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver says the state has two probable causes of swine flu.

Speaking Wednesday at a Statehouse news conference, Culver told reporters that officials would know Thursday if the cases are swine flu.

Officials say one case was from a California resident who visited Scott and Clinton counties last week. The other was a woman who returned from Mexico and traveled through Johnson, Des Moines and Muscatine counties.

State Medical Director Patricia Quinlisk says both of the people infected were now recovering.

Should know by tomorrow if they are confirmed or not.

Anti-evolution bill in Iowa

I am so incredibly tardy with this information that Arizonian John Lynch and the lovely folks at Uncommon Descent have already blogged this, but recently an “academic freedom” bill was introduced in Iowa. For those who may be unfamiliar, in addition to “teach the controversy,” these “academic freedom” bills are one of the new tactics for creationists who want to introduce creationism into science classrooms via the back door by claiming that teachers need the protection to teach “the full range of scientific views” when it comes to evolution (in other words, to teach creationism/ID). The bill states that:
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