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Study suggests wild boar pose a threat to human health

21st Jun 2017 / By Alistair Driver

Soaring populations of wild boar could pose a risk to human health, according to researchers.

wild boarResearch by the Moredun Research Institute at Penicuik, near Edinburgh, concluded that the animals could be harbouring an antibiotic-resistant strain of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on their snouts, which the researchers warned could spread to humans as wild boar roam around the countryside.

However, the research was carried out on wild boar in Portugal, so its implications for wild populations in this country, notably the Forest of Dean, remain unclear. 

The study, published in the journal ‘Science Of The Total Environment’, said it was ‘a concern when MRSA is inhabiting the skin and nose of wild animals and is characterised with resistance to various antimicrobial agents in clinical use’.

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The NPA, while agreeing with the report's core conclusion about the need to control surging wild boar populations, notably in the Forest of Dean, has urged caution over the threat of MRSA spread via pigs in the UK.  

The NPA’s concern is focused largely on the risk to local pig populations of serious and in some cases notifiable diseases potentially carried by wild boar. Wild boar have been implicated in the spread of African Swine Fever in Eastern Europe, for example.

Wild boar have also caused havoc among the general public, with reports around the Forest of Dean of animals wandering around town centres, wrecking bins and gardens and chasing dog walkers. Nearly 50 wild boar-related road traffic accidents were recorded in the area in less than a year.

MRSA risk

However, the MRSA risk is less clear in the UK, despite media reports, backed by the efforts of campaign groups to highlight the risk, suggesting it poses a threat to human health.

Livestock-Associated MRSA CC398 has been found in the UK, including in packs of supermarket meat, but at much lower levels than in Denmark, for example, where it is a major concern.

While humans can be affected the risk of spread between humans and animals is considered to be very low and, where infections do occur, they are generally mild. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has looked into the risk of food-borne spread, describing it as ‘very low’.

“Based on current evidence, there are no reported cases of LA-MRSA being contracted through ingestion of contaminated foodstuffs, in the UK,” the FSA said.