“I’m a model who just won the Nobel Prize in Literature; I’m worth $235 million and, oh, I’m having lunch with director James Cameron next week to pitch a movie about my life, with Hugh Jackman as my leading man.”

Well, clearly, just saying something doesn’t make it so. But somebody ought to tell that to Katie Couric of CBS Evening News. Despite her $18 million a year salary, she’s proven talk is cheap when it comes to her recent story on antibiotic resistance in humans and livestock farming.

Couric is one of a handful blaming livestock farmers for increased cases of antibiotic resistance in humans; specifically, they claim the antibiotics given to animals are responsible for increased incidents of people getting Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infections. But doctors who specialize in treating MRSA cases say their experience and science shows the responsibility for our MRSA cases can be found…in the mirror, not the hog lots of Iowa.

Dr. Lisa Veach, M.D., Infectious Disease specialist and epidemiologist at Iowa Health of Des Moines, has seen and treated thousands of MRSA cases. She’s seen it in healthy athletes, elderly patients after surgery and in working Moms and children.

Dr. Veach always asks questions to uncover more about the source of their MRSA infection; she’ll ask if they share towels at home or have come in contact with another person with a skin rash, boil or cut. She’ll ask if they are on sports teams and share gym or athletic equipment. She’ll ask if they work at daycares or health care settings. But, Dr. Veach has never asked MRSA patients if they work at a livestock farm. Why? Because MRSA (which she simply calls staphylococcus) is a “people bug.” It comes from people, not livestock. What’s more; it’s everywhere.

“Many people carry staphylococcus at one time or another. If you cultured 100 persons to see if they carried staphylococcus, 30 of them would in fact at that time carry it on their body. But most that carry it don’t come down with an infection, unless their skin is compromised. A cut or a scrape is certainly the most common route by which staph goes from the outside of our body to deeper in the tissues,” said Dr. Veach.

‘So,” (I asked her), “staphylococcus does not come from animals? It doesn’t come from food?”

“We do not believe MRSA is transmitted by ingestion of any food product.” Then, (smiling), “It does not come from eating a pork chop, no.”

Clearly, we have to ask ourselves how we play a part in stopping the spread of MRSA. How many times have you taken your child to the pediatrician for a sore throat or ear infection and, without so much as a blood test or throat culture, walked out with an antibiotic (remember the good-tasting pink stuff?) A study just published by the American Academy of Pediatrics says maybe you should “wait it out” because chances are good, your child will recover on their own. Check out that study here: ( http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/296/10/1235) For that matter, how many times did you “forget” to take those last three days of antibiotics because you felt better? How many unused antibiotics are sitting in your medicine cabinet right now?

Let the anti-meat zealots wag their fingers at livestock farmers and make their unfounded accusations; but when it comes to MRSA, one of the most widely-regarded experts on the subject in the state says it’s the person, not the pig, that’s to blame.

Dr. Veach says it’s really this simple: only take antibiotics if tests prove you need them. Finish them when they’re prescribed. Cover a cut or a scrape if you have one. Wash your hands, a lot. Simple stuff and it doesn’t take a TV celebrity with an $18-million-a-year salary to figure it out. So you see? Sometimes it seems the best advice really is free.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.