“Hi, my name is staphylococcus aureus.

“I’m really surprised at this request for an interview. While I am one of the ‘big three’ contagious mastitis organisms, I don’t get very much attention these days. I suppose this is primarily because Mycoplasma bovis is such a spotlight-monger. Everybody pays attention to the new kid on the block. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much — at least I’m not Streptococcus agalactiae who has nearly become extinct. 

“So let me tell you about myself.

“I’m common, much more so than the other contagious mastitis organisms. I’m on nearly every dairy. Some realize I’m there and pay attention to me, and others not so much. 

“How do I get on your dairy, you ask? I live in infected udders and move to others cows during milking. I can also live in places like the nostrils, hair coat, vagina and perineum. You can almost certainly find me in udder wounds and abscesses.

“Flies love me. They hang out in the places I live, and I can grab a free ride on a fly to another host. This is the best way for me to infect heifers and a significant way for me to invade a dairy. Fly control is not always up-to-par in heifer lots. And, let me tell you, I can really get around.”

“S” for super bug

“Once I gain access to the udder, I can unleash my superpowers. Don’t laugh, it is true. I’m small, but mighty. 

“I have a whole armory of toxins and enzymes that I release once I find a prime location. I can form fibrinogen, a soluble protein present in the blood. I also break down DNA, inhibit the inflammatory response, cause clumping of cells, withstand high temperatures, and secrete toxins that cause a whole host of damage.

“It is all a work of genius, really. I do all of this to protect myself from antibiotics. I am quite susceptible to antibiotics, but don’t tell anyone that. Many dairy farmers drop the syringe when they hear my name. If they knew that I’m sensitive to antibiotics, and that if they got to me before I release my weaponry, they would have a good chance of eliminating me. This is especially the case with heifer infections. It takes some time to release the magic.” 

Kryptonite works

“What are my turn-offs? I’d have to say persistent managers. I can’t stand those guys who constantly culture fresh heifers and cows, as well as mastitis cows. 

“If they think I’m a new infection, they may try extended therapies to knock me out. If they perceive I’m a chronic infection, they put the cow in a Staph pen, which really limits my opportunity to meet new hosts. I’ve been eliminated in some places, but I’d rather not talk about that — it makes me feel like Strep. ag.

“Oh, I almost forgot — I hate teat dip, too. Sometimes, I like to innocently sit on the outside of the teat after milking just to get some air, and along comes the brown tide of teat dip. Without any flies around to rescue me, I’m a goner. 

“Sometimes, I get lucky and the milkers skip over me because they are busy doing something else. Or, better yet, they spray and miss me, especially if I hide on the backside of the teat. That is a good trick; don’t tell them about that one either.

“Well, thanks for the opportunity to tell you about myself. I’ll see you around the farm. By the way, did I tell you about the time I hid on a strawberry and caused a massive diarrhea outbreak?”

Angela M. Daniels is a veterinarian with Circle H Headquarters, a dairy and swine veterinary practice, food safety laboratory and DHIA milk-testing and contract research organization in  Dalhart, Texas.