VETERINARY hospitals and clinics are being urged to take precautions against so-called superbug, MRSA, after a bereaved dog owner launched a risk-awareness campaign.
Evidence is on the increase, that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA) bacteria which infected around 7,700 patients last year alone in British hospitals — is taking hold in veterinary surgeries. Jill Moss, owner of a I0 year- old Samoyed which died after being infected by MRSA, has launched a campaign to educate pet owners and veterinarians about the risks to animals.
Ms Moss believes her dog, Bella, was infected after a routine knee operation and is now asking for tighter regulations in veterinary practices.
“I hope that Bella’s story will alert dog owners to the risks that exist in veterinary clinics and hospitals,” said Ms Moss. It is not just the risk of contamination through surgery, but also the risk that MRSA does exist in animals and that, just like us, they can become colonised and be susceptible to further infection at any time. To reach as many people as possible, Ms Moss has created a website — pets-mrsa.com to provide further information to pet owners.
Bella’s death is thought to be one of the first recorded cases of a dog dying of MRSA in the UK. Research by David Lloyd, professor in veterinary dermatology at the Royal Veterinary College, and colleagues, suggests that MRSA infection in veterinary practice is on the increase. In a letter to the veterinary press in March 2004, Professor Lloyd gave details of 12 confirmed cases over a period of a few months at the RVCs Queen Mother Hospital for Animals.
‘We’ve surveyed the Queen Mother Hospital. We sampled everyone in the hospital, all the veterinary staff, all the dogs, all the cats and the environment in one day, he told Veterinary Times. “We found that members of staff were colonised — as you would expect, because up to 30 per cent of the general population seems to be colonised — and we found that the numbers of staff colonised were comparable, if slightly lower,”
He went on: “There is potential to transfer the infection to animals. Any animal that is being treated with antibiotics and is susceptible to staphylcoccal infection which is often the reason they’re given the antibiotic — can then pick up MRSA.”
Professor Lloyd said animals which are repeatedly treated with antibiotics are more at risk and, in their survey of the Queen Mother Hospital, nearly all of the isolated cases showed close relation to hospital epidemic MRSA.
“The implication is that they’ve come from humans with hospital infections,” he said. “And often we find that if we go into the history of the owner, either the owner or somebody in the owner’s family has been in hospital or an old people’s home.”
There is little evidence so far to suggest that MRSA infection is passing from animals to humans though recent research suggests there are certain bacteria species with potential for zoonotic transmission. The problem is that sometimes the owners are worried and occasionally the dog is put down because the owners don’t want to persist with the treatment, said Professor Lloyd. One of the factors must be that they’re worried about this organism.
“If you are suffering from reduced immunity— if you’re old, if you’re already suffering from another disease or if you have some sort of injury such as joint damage — then you can become seriously ill.”
The QM Hospital has established routines and isolation procedures to control MRSA, based on the best practice from NHS and private hospitals.
He stressed: People shouldn’t panic but clearly it’s something we need to recognise and take precautions against in veterinary practices so this organism does not become as common as it is in hospitals.”
Total human infections rose 5.5 per cent between the year 2001 and the end of 2003, whilst a total of 800 human deaths were said to be attributable to the MRSA virus in 2002 — according to the latest Health Protection Agency figures.
Speaking for the British Veterinary Hospitals Association, president Bob Partridge said there were no MRSA-specific guidelines drawn up at present. “We do have very strict guidelines about cleanliness and the use of vacuum autoclaves and various other things which are likely to cut down the instance of transmission,” he said. I strongly suspect that the cases of MRSA that we see in our pet cases will be because of human activity, rather than originating with the pet.
Mr Partridge stressed that veterinary hospital procedures were already stringent enough to combat cases of MRSA transmission In pets, but said there would be no complacency on their part. ‘It is a relatively minor problem, when we think about the number of pets that die of parvovirus or feline leukaemia,” Mr Partridge stressed.
He went on; ‘In some ways I’d be more concerned about making sure that ET tubes are sterilised properly in-between feline patients. “There is a very good chance for vets acting as carriers of feline leukaemia and spreading it around the cat population by intubating them with FT tubes that have not been properly disinfected. “So we need to look at where it’s most important to focus attention. Don’t be complacent about MRSA, but look at the relative risk that’s involved.”