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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Scientists Gather for NARMS Scientific Meeting

by Joanne M. Kla, Marcia L. Headrick, D.V.M., M.P.H. and Paula J. Fedorka-Cray, Ph.D.
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter January/February 2003 Volume XVIII, No 1

Organizers of the NARMS program used their most recent regularly scheduled Scientific Meeting to present information about how the program works including where samples come from, how are they processed and how bacteria are tested for antimicrobial susceptibility. Among other topics, scientists discussed laboratory culture technique challenges and phenomena that have been observed in the NARMS testing laboratories.

The NARMS program was created in 1996 to discover whether bacteria found in animals are developing resistance to antimicrobial drugs, and whether those resistant bacteria are making people ill.

At the most recent meeting, held in November, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided information on the collection and susceptibility testing of human Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Listeria and Enterococci, as well as analysis and reporting methods.

Researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided information on on-going activities related to the animal arm of NARMS. Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) collects samples at slaughter plants for testing, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has several sentinel sites and also collects on-farm samples. Animal and Plant Health Inspection service (APHIS) contributes samples collected through the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) program. The Antimicrobial Resistance Research Unit of USDA cultures these samples for organisms of interest and tests their antimicrobial susceptibility using the same panel of antimicrobial drugs as CDC and CVM.

CVM scientists presented information on the retail arm of NARMS, including a presentation on the Iowa Retail Meat Study conducted by FDA, CVM, Division of Epidemiology and CVM's Office of Research. The Iowa Pilot study, part of a planned expansion of the NARMS program, was an epidemiological effort to compare bacteria found on retail meats to bacteria isolated from humans, to see if there is a link in terms of prevalence and antimicrobial resistance. This pilot study provided useful information on conducting a retail study, including study design and sampling methods. The researchers found that the Iowa Pilot study was a good model on which to base the expanded FoodNet Retail Meat Study.

FDA researchers also presented information on a new addition to the retail arm of NARMS, the FoodNet Retail Meat Study, currently being conducted by CVM, Division of Epidemiology and Office of Research in collaboration with the CDC FoodNet Sites.

Participants reported on culture challenges presented by Salmonella, Shigella, E.coli, Campylobacter, Enterococci. They also shared information on enhancements their laboratories have developed to increase isolation of Campylobacter, typically a difficult organism to isolate in the laboratory.

The participants also heard information about surveillance programs in other parts of the world, with presentations about zoonotic pathogen and antimicrobial resistance monitoring systems in Canada and Italy, and the WHO Global Salm-Surv program (an international Salmonella surveillance network that includes the World Health Organization, the Danish Veterinary Service, CDC, Health Canada, and Institut Pasteur).


Another program discussed at the meeting was a new USDA program: Collaboration on Animal Health, Food Safety, and Epidemiology (CAHFSE). This program is an outgrowth of Agricultural Research Service (ARS), FSIS, and APHIS/NAHMS collaborations dating back to 1992. The CAHFSE program, which is scheduled to start in 2003, will have APHIS, ARS and FSIS as equal partners.

This new surveillance system will be patterned after NAHMS, focused on animal health and public health issues that will include data collected at slaughter. Pork will be the first commodity examined in the program. The program will conduct quarterly sampling at 25 operations, with 75 samples per operation. Samples will be sent to the ARS, Antimicrobial Resistance Research Unit (ARRU) laboratory for culture of Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Enterococci, and other organisms of interest.

In addition to the laboratory work, they plan to conduct risk analyses, epidemiologic studies and field investigations to describe environmental conditions at the sample collection sites. Anticipated benefits and outcomes include providing science-based answers to questions including what impact antimicrobial drug use may have on animal and human health.

The NARMS program plays an important role in the overall understanding of antimicrobial drug resistance. The primary role of NARMS is to provide descriptive data on the extent and temporal trends in antimicrobial susceptibility in Salmonella and other enteric organisms from human and animal populations.

Additionally, NARMS facilitates the identification of resistance in humans and animals as it arises, provides information on antimicrobial resistance to veterinarians and physicians, prolongs the life span of approved drugs by promoting the prudent and judicious use of antimicrobial drugs, and identifies areas for more detailed investigation. NARMS also aids in antimicrobial resistance research by providing a national source of enteric bacterial isolates that may be invaluable for research such as diagnostic test development, discovering new genes and molecular mechanisms associated with resistance, studying mobile gene elements, and for virulence and colonization studies.

For more information on the NARMS program, please contact Dr. Marcia Headrick of FDA, CVM via e-mail at mheadric@cvm.fda.gov, or call (706) 546-3689. Additional information on the NARMS program is also available on the CVM NARMS web page. A brochure on the NARMS program is available by contacting the FDA Veterinarian at (301) 827-3800.

Joanne Kla is a Consumer Officer on the Communications Staff and Assistant Editor of the FDA Veterinarian. Dr. Headrick is an Epidemiologist with CVM's Division of Epidemiology stationed in Athens, Georgia and the FDA/CVM NARMS Coordinator. Dr. Fedorka-Cray is Research Leader with USDA's Antimicrobial Resistance Research Unit in Athens, Georgia.