Careful what you sniff. Especially if you work at an industrial hog farm. Because a small study finds that drug-resistant bacteria may hang out in the noses of some workers even after four days away from work following exposure. Almost half of the tested workers continued to harbor drug-resistant bacteria two weeks after their initial exposure, perhaps due to re-exposures on the job.
The unwelcome stowaways include so-called “superbug” MRSA, as well as other bacteria associated with an increased risk of staph infections. The research is in the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine. [Maya Nadimpalli et al: Persistence of livestock-associated antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus among industrial hog operation workers in North Carolina over 14 days]
At industrial-sized farms antibiotics are often overused to promote animal growth to get them to market sooner. Drug-resistant strains of bacteria quickly evolve.
This investigation involves 22 hog farm workers in North Carolina. It’s the first study to find that bacteria hitches a ride in employees’ nasal passages and can linger there for days. The longer the stay, the more opportunities for the bacteria to jump to workers’ families and social networks. However, this study did not determine whether the nostril-dwelling bacteria causes harm in these people.
Nevertheless, carrying around drug-resistant bacteria in the warm, moist nasal environment is nothing to sneeze at.
—Dina Fine Maron