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Tech Talk: May 2012

Staphylococcus aureus – The Cowman’s Curse

Protecting your dairy cows from mastitis is easier said than done, particularly when you consider the difficult nature of some very hard-to-kil bacteria. This is the cowman’s curse. Mention mastitis-causing bacteria and a few BIG names spring to mind, Staphylococcus aureus being one of the most prominent in most people’s minds. Staphylococcus aureus (Staph. aureus) is referred to in mastitis terms as a ‘contagious bacteria’ in that it is recognised that it lives and multiplies in the udder tissue and milk and it can easily pass from cow to cow during the milking process. It was first identified in the pus of an open wound by the surgeon Sir Alexander Ogston in Aberdeen in 1880. Sore and cracked teats are therefore an ideal source from which it can enter the udder system. Over the years, Staph. aureus has been treated by the penicil in class antibiotic, methicil in. However, it has now developed resistance and Methicil in Resistant Staph. aureus (MRSA) is greatly feared in both the food chain and hospitals. So methicil in has been superseded by flucloxacil in which is stronger and more effective. Skin is a great home for Staph. aureus so cross infection from hand to the cow’s teats or milk liner to teat is easy. Back flushing, cluster dipping and the wearing of nitrile gloves What makes Staph. aureus particularly difficult to control is the fact it can produce an enzyme cal ed beta lactase which prevents many penicil in antibiotics from working. In addition, the bacteria can create a gel-like coat which prevents the cow’s immune system So there you have it, a very wel known mastitis causing pathogen, with the ability to hide from the natural immune system (leucocytes) and capable of resisting the effects of antibiotics. The British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) report that up to 35% of known ‘Staphs’ are antibiotic resistant. No surprise then that it is the cowman’s curse on a high percentage of UK and Irish dairy farms. Strangely, Staph. aureus has been found in heifer colostrum at first milking so no contagious spread cow to cow in the milking process here! The source here may be flies It is clear this problem wil never go away but improved hygiene practices around the Attention to detail in both PRE and POST milking disinfection has been shown to reduce the spread of this pathogen. Paying close attention to skin and teat end condition is also vital in removing another perfect hiding and breeding place for Staph. aureus. But dry cow management is key as, whilst strong post-milking germicidal routines with full teat coverage can wash away and kil Staph. aureus in the milk film, it cannot reach the living and breeding bacteria in milk secreting tissue inside the udder. Therefore, targeted antibiotic treatment and internal/external sealing, which have both been proven to impact on Staph. aureus, is a must in dry cow protocols.


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