Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus; A Gift From Your Pet?

Posted: 24 Sep 2009 12:02 PM PDT


I've got to get out more. Apparently there is an epidemic going on in this country that I was unaware of until this morning. Even more interesting to us is that our pets may be involved in the transmission of this bug. Before you start running for the anti-bacterial hand gel let me put this in context for you.

According to an NY Times article on-line this morning pets are now involved in the transmission of methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This bug has been a problem for humans for decades. It's one of those nosocomial (you get it at the hospital) infections that plague health care workers and hospitalized civilians. 
The more recent news is that dogs and cats are now a source of transmission of this bug back to humans. More and more veterinarians are reporting that infections with MRSA are cropping up in dogs and cats.
It appears to work like this: MRSA is transmitted from infected humans to their pet dogs and cats. These same dogs and cats may develop their own MRSA infections in some cases or they may simply become symptomless carriers of MRSA. As such, they are capable of spreading this bug to other humans that share their space. Like you and me.
Interestingly, this first came to light in therapy dogs. We've discussed the important role these dogs play in hospitals and nursing homes. About five years ago vets noticed that these dogs were coming down with MRSA infections at unusually high rates. They are still at high risk.


I don't think we need to hit the panic button on this, yet. According to a veterinary internal medicine and microbiology specialist up in Canada, only two to three percent of dogs tested carried this bug. Even at that, most dogs are capable of mounting a strong enough immune response to rid themselves of infection in two or three weeks according to Dr. J. Scott Weese at the Ontario Veterinary College. So, 97-98% of us can relax.
Dr. Weese does recommend some common sense precautions, however. His recommendations include foregoing sloppy wet kisses from your hound or face licks from your kitty. He also suggests that you wash your hands after close contact and petting with either species. I would think that this goes double for anyone that is immunocompromised. That would include anyone taking immunosuppressive drugs, AIDS patients or elderly folks with chronic diseases. These precautions area already in place at health care facilities where therapy dogs do their good work.
This is certainly something we should all be aware of. Still, the chances of you getting this bug are far greater from being hospitalized or from working in a hospital than from close contact with your pet. In fact, you could say that dogs and cats should be more leery of close contact with people than vice versa. However, it should be on our collective radar screens. Now go give your dog or kitty a hug, hold the kisses and, just for safety's sake, wash your hands. 


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