Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: a controversial food-borne pathogen

D Sergelidis, A S Angelidis
Letters in Applied Microbiology 2017, 64 (6): 409-418

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a major cause of severe healthcare-associated (HA) infections. Although during the last decade the incidence of HA invasive infections has dropped, the incidence of community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) infections has risen among the general population. Moreover, CA-MRSA, livestock-associated MRSA (LA-MRSA) and HA-MRSA (HA-MRSA) can be found in foods intended for human consumption. Several studies from different geographical areas have reported the presence of enterotoxin genes in several MRSA food isolates. Molecular typing studies have revealed genetic relatedness of these enterotoxigenic isolates with isolates incriminated in human infections. The contamination sources for foods, especially animal-origin foods, may be livestock as well as humans involved in animal husbandry and food-processing. Under favourable environmental conditions for growth and enterotoxin production, enterotoxigenic S. aureus isolates present in foods can cause staphylococcal food poisoning (SFP), irrespective of the contamination origin. Owing to the typically moderate clinical manifestations of SFP, the S. aureus strains responsible for SFP (cases or outbreaks) are frequently either not identified or not further characterized. Antimicrobial susceptibility testing is rarely performed, because administration of antimicrobial therapy is not required in the vast majority of cases. Staphylococcal food poisoning is the result of consumption of foods with preformed enterotoxins. Hence, similar to methicillin-sensitive enterotoxigenic S. aureus, enterotoxigenic MRSA can also act as food-borne pathogens upon favourable conditions for growth and enterotoxin production. The severity of the intoxication is not related to the antimicrobial resistance profile of the causative S. aureus strain and therefore MRSA food-borne outbreaks are not expected to be more severe.

SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY: This review evaluates the potential of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as food-borne pathogens based on the current knowledge about the epidemiology of MRSA, their prevalence in livestock, foods of animal origin and humans, and their ability to produce enterotoxins.

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