Transcript: Toxic Megacolon Superbug
There’s a new superbug in town. Clostridium difficile, known in short as C. diff. You may remember superbugs from such hits as MRSA last year—methicillin-resistant Staph aureus—now killing more people than AIDS in the United States. MRSA used to just be something you picked up in hospitals. But then, all of a sudden, there were all these cases found out in the community, and no one knew where it was coming from.
Then, we discovered MRSA in pigs, veal calves, chickens, and dairy cows. Ah ha! So, they tested farm workers, and about half of them were carrying it. So then, they tested the meat, and found MRSA right off the supermarket shelves.
In the hospital, we have something called contact precautions. Before you can even walk into a room with a patient with MRSA, you have to glove, mask, and gown—even if you’re not even going to touch the patient. There is such a concern that you might just touch some contaminated surface, they won’t even let you in the room unless you look like this. Yet we still let kids run up and down the meat aisle at the supermarket, where MRSA contamination has been confirmed.
Now, only about 5% of retail meat tested so far in the U.S. has MRSA on it. But, if you went to any infectious disease specialist, offered them an object, informing them that there was a 5% chance it was contaminated with MRSA, first of all, they wouldn’t touch it. And if they had to, they’d definitely glove up. If you handle raw meat, wear gloves—I’m serious! And wash your hands.
What about C. diff.? C. diff. used to be just something you picked up in hospitals, but then all of a sudden, there were all these cases found out in the community, and no one knew where it were coming from. Then we discovered C. diff. in calves, cows, chickens, and pigs. Starting to sound familiar? Then, they tested meat, and found C. diff. right off the supermarket shelves. 42% of meat products sampled contained toxin-producing C. diff. The riskiest meat was ground turkey, actually. Relatively common in retail chicken, too. And out of legs, wings or thighs, the riskiest body part to touch were chickens’ wings.
Now, MRSA causes nasty skin infections. What does C. diff. do? Well, normally, nothing. Even if you get infected and your gut gets colonized with C. diff., your good bacteria can usually muscle it into submission. But the C. diff. just waits patiently; until you have to take an antibiotic, for example. And with your good bacteria out of the way, C. diff. can go crazy, and cause a severe infection of your colon, called pseudomembraneous colitis—which can get worse, and even turn into a life-threatening condition called toxic megacolon.
This man is not pregnant. This man has toxic megacolon. On autopsy, his colon looked like this.
Yeah, but people don’t eat raw poultry. Doesn’t cooking wipe out most bugs? C. diff. isn’t like most bugs. For most meat, 71 degrees Celsius is the recommended internal cooking temperature. That’s what our meat thermometers are supposed to reach, just to be safe, err on the side of caution. C. diff. can survive two hours at that temperature. Chicken can be grilled for two hours straight, and still not kill off C. diff.
You know there’s those alcohol-based hand sanitizers that say they kill 99.99% of germs? That 0.01% is C. diff. They don’t call it a superbug for nothing. And then, residual spores are readily transferred by a handshake—even after the use of an alcohol-based hand rub. So you don’t want to touch raw meat, and you don’t want to touch people who’ve touched raw meat.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.
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