MRSA Bacteria Can Be Passed Between People And Their Pets

June 24, 2009

According to medical officials, antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria can be passed back and forth between people and their pets. US scientists are warning that doctors who treat dog and cat bites, should consider the risks of MRSA infection.

Bacteria known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus , or MRSA, can cause painful skin infections in people. And increasingly, the bacteria is being discovered in pets as well, the experts have reported. Few studies have suggested that dogs, cats and horses pick up the infection from their owners, and should be considered as potential reservoirs of infection.

Writing in the journal, the team of investigators led by Dr. Richard Oehler, of the University of South Florida, noted that "as community-acquired strains of MRSA increase in prevalence, a growing body of clinical evidence has documented MRSA colonization in domestic animals, often implying direct infection from their human owners.

The majority of bugs are usually transmitted by bites and scratches, but others, including MRSA, are able to cycle back and forth between pets and their human owners, Oehler and his colleagues warned. In most cases, pet owners are not even aware of the possibility that life-threatening pathogens can be transmitted from their canine and feline companions, the researchers said. And particularly worrisome is a growing body of evidence that cats and dogs can be colonized by MRSA, since cats and dogs usually carry a different strain of Staphylococcus bacteria.

As long ago as 1988, an outbreak on a rehabilitation geriatric unit was traced to a "ward cat" that was believed to be transmitting the bacteria from one individual to another one. Another outbreak in an intensive-care unit was traced to a nurse and his husband, who also worked as a nurse. Few months later, someone has somehow discovered that the couple's dog was also infected with MRSA. "Simultaneous decolonization of the entire household (both nurses and the dog) was ultimately successful," the authors wrote.

In the United States, dog and cat bites are the cause of about 1 per cent of emergency room visits every year, with same numbers coming from Europe. Boys with the ages between 5 and 9 years, are most at risk from dog bites, the researchers said. It was observed that when bitten, hands appear to be the most parts of the body to develop infections, as well as to develop quickly spreading and disabling damage. In fact, between 30 and 40 per cent of all hand bites become infected.

Children, because of their small height, most commolnly are bitten on the face, neck or on the head. Adults get most bites on the hand, followed by face, head, neck, thigh or leg. Severe infections occur in about 20 per cent of all cases of dog and cat bites, which should be washed with high-pressure saline and treated with antibiotics in individual cases, the team explained. The treatment of infections from pets is the same as for MRSA acquired from other sources, Dr. Oehler said. The infections that have a mild or a moderate form, can be treated with oral anti-staphylococcal drugs, while more serious cases can be treated with drugs injected into the sites of infection.

The findings are published in the July issue of the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Tags: Pets

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