Can I catch that from my pet? This is a common question we hear as veterinarians, and as such have made this a recurring topic. This week we cover antimicrobial resistance.
MRSA is a term many people have heard, but what does it mean? How did I get it and what role might this adorable furball, sleeping in my bed, possibly play?
Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Wow. That’s a lot of big words.
Staph aureus is a bacteria that is normally found in the skin and nose of healthy people and it usually does not cause a problem. The dog equivalent of Staphyloccus aureus is Staphylococcus pseudointermedius and it acts the same way as it’s cousin (and is normally found on their skin). Because they are so closely related, these cousins can occasionally swap places; you may transiently have some of your dog’s Staph pseudointermedius and Fido may have some of your Staph aureus. Again, it’s important to remember that in most cases, this is not a concern and is a normal part of life.
Human physicians and veterinarians become concerned when there is an underlying illness or injury, when the bacteria can take advantage of the break in the normal immune system and cause an infection. This is of special concern in hospitals, nursing homes, and in the homes of immunocompromised people. The treatment for this infection is antibiotics, but unfortunately, like Frankenstein’s monster, this treatment can lead to something much more serious. Occasionally, Staph can become resistant to the antibiotics, and once it’s accumulated enough resistance to enough antibiotics, it turns into Methicillin-Resistant Staph. This doesn’t mean that it’s a stronger or more infectious bacteria, it just means that it’s harder to treat in the instances where it is causing a problem. We are becoming more and more concerned about antibiotic resistance and now there is a growing movement of Antibiotic Stewardship, where physicians and veterinarians try to use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.
Since you and your dog may share normal Staph between the two of you, can you also share the methicillin-resistant Staph? The short answer is yes, but in most cases, this is not a huge problem because remember, it’s not inherently a stronger or more infectious bacteria. However, it becomes a concern if the 2-legged or 4-legged family members are very young, very old, immunosuppressed or pregnant. If this is a concern in your household and your pet was diagnosed with a skin infection, please discuss this with your physician.
So, since "rarely doesn’t mean never” - the risk of getting resistant infections from your pet are low, but they are not zero...and I’m sure we’d all rather not have an infection with a highly drug-resistant bacterium. Accordingly, the use of proper hygiene and infection control measures, particularly around an animal with an active infection, is always important. These measures include:
Frequent handwashing after contact with the pet.
Avoiding contact with the infected site.
Keeping the infected site covered with an impermeable dressing, whenever possible.
Reducing contact with the nose of the infected animal, since it may also be carrying the bacterium there. In general, reducing close contact (e.g. snuggling, nuzzling, hugging, kissing) during the period of infection is a good idea.
Regular washing (in hot water with hot air drying, whenever possible) of pet beds and other items that come into close and frequent contact with the pet.
Is all that overkill? Probably. But it’s also an easy and practical plan, and a reasonable approach to reduce the already-low risks.
Image c/o dgarkauskas on Flickr