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Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Feb;113(2):137-42.

Airborne multidrug-resistant bacteria isolated from a concentrated swine feeding operation.

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Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Baltimore, Maryland 21205-2103, USA.


The use of nontherapeutic levels of antibiotics in swine production can select for antibiotic resistance in commensal and pathogenic bacteria in swine. As a result, retail pork products, as well as surface and groundwaters contaminated with swine waste, have been shown to be sources of human exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, it is unclear whether the air within swine operations also serves as a source of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens. To investigate this issue, we sampled the air within a concentrated swine feeding operation with an all-glass impinger. Samples were analyzed using a method for the isolation of Enterococcus. A total of 137 presumptive Enterococcus isolates were identified to species level using standard biochemical tests and analyzed for resistance to erythromycin, clindamycin, virginiamycin, tetracycline, and vancomycin using the agar dilution method. Thirty-four percent of the isolates were confirmed as Enterococcus, 32% were identified as coagulase-negative staphylococci, and 33% were identified as viridans group streptococci. Regardless of bacterial species, 98% of the isolates expressed high-level resistance to at least two antibiotics commonly used in swine production. None of the isolates were resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic that has never been approved for use in livestock in the United States. In conclusion, high-level multidrug-resistant Enterococcus, coagulase-negative staphylococci, and viridans group streptococci were detected in the air of a concentrated swine feeding operation. These findings suggest that the inhalation of air from these facilities may serve as an exposure pathway for the transfer of multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens from swine to humans.

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