Vets are to be issued with new guidelines in an attempt to fight the spread of MRSA following a warning that incidents of animal infection are climbing.
Last week the British Veterinary Association warned that the number of cases would continue to rise and urged its members to take precautions. Freda Scott-Park, president-elect of the BVA, said the association wanted to ensure vets were aware that the bug can transfer between humans and farm herds or pets, particularly dogs.
She said young, old and sick animals could be particularly vulnerable to the bug. Dr Scott-Park said there were no proven recorded cases of MRSA jumping from animal to human. "We are far more concerned that it passes from humans to animals. That is the more likely path," she said. A set of guidelines issued to vets will include a call to use sterile gloves, masks and scrub suits during all operations.
The BVA's warning came after the issue had been highlighted in the media by Jill Moss, a dog owner whose Samoyed Bella died of MRSA infection contracted during a routine operation at a veterinary hospital as reported in OUR DOGS March 11. Ms Moss, 34, of Edgware, North London is now launching a campaign to educate pet owners and vets about the risks to animals.
MRSA - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus -, sometimes referred to in the media as the 'Superbug', kills around 5,000 human patients a year. It affects both humans and animals. MRSA is a bacterium that, under normal conditions, is relatively harmless. Every human being lives with different kinds of bacteria (Staphylococcus included) in our bodies and on our skin without harmful effects, but problems can occur when they get into the blood stream or tissue through a cut or broken skin, particularly if an individual's immune system is weakened.
MRSA can be so difficult to treat that in some cases it is fatal. Experts believe the spread of MRSA to animals is of concern, and are demanding more research into the risks, but have also stressed that the chances of the bug transferring to humans is small.
Jill Moss told OUR DOGS: "If I had known about MRSA in animals or understood the risks, Bella could have been saved not just from death, but from inhumane suffering. "We have found this problem is widespread throughout the world, and we are determined to inform and warn pet owners and vets, and be a supportive, but persistent, voice calling for better infection prevention, to avoid it happening again.
Bob Partridge, the president of the British Veterinary Hospitals Association, said the emphasis would be on minimising the risk of transmission by encouraging veterinary surgeons to adopt best practice in operating procedures: "There is certainly a wide awareness in the veterinary profession of MRSA and the problems that occur. These steps are being taken already in veterinary hospitals and a large number of practices," Partridge said. "The problem will be that there will be an increasing number of cases as the bug becomes more common."
Partridge, who practises in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, added the cost of treating pets would rise with the higher levels of sterility but emphasised that incidences of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) amongst animals remained relatively low. Over the past two to three years, between 10 and 20 cases had been reported each year, he said. An expert at the Royal Veterinary College called for urgent action last year. Professor David Lloyd said that more and more infected animals were being referred to vets though they might not be looking out for the bug.
Moss added that one prominent member of the BVA had claimed that vets `masking up' and using gowns and gloves would add to the cost of operations. "He told me that it could add £25 to the cost of a standard operation," she said. "I fail to see how masks and gloves, let alone gowns bought in bulk will come anywhere near adding as much as £25 to the cost of a procedure. It just sounds like an excuse not to take extra precautions to me."
* Jill Moss has established the Bella Moss Foundation, which is soon to be a registered charity. Its main aims are to:
• Provide information and sources of advice to veterinary practices to allow them to improve infection control;
• Encourage Continuing Professional Development for the veterinary profession on infection control;
• Support and publicise research into MRSA superbug and other serious infections affecting companion animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits and horses etc;
• Provide support for pet owners whose pets have post-operative infections.
• To work towards the establishment of a veterinary clinic for the care of pets suffering from MRSA and other serious infections.
The Bella Moss Foundation website: http://www.pets-mrsa.com
BVA PLAYS DOWN
Commenting last week on fears being generated over MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) in pets, the President-Elect of the BVA (British Veterinary Association)
Dr Freda Scott-Park urged pet owners not to panic. Dr Scott-Park issued a formal statement aimed at playing down fears about MRSA and to reassure pet owners that the BVA were taking the matter seriously: "The alarm being generated is completely unnecessary," she said. "While MRSA has been isolated from a variety of domestic animals it is important for people to realise that the incidence is still very, very low.
" Dr Scott-Park stressed that "any loss of a much-loved pet, whatever the cause, is tragic, but the circumstances surrounding the death of the dog that has triggered the latest concerns were, to say the least, extremely unusual as well as deeply regrettable. Clearly awareness of the potential dangers of MRSA is vital but detailed information was provided to the veterinary profession at the beginning of the year (via the Journal of Small Animal Practice, the journal of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA),).
Practical advice and guidelines to the profession will also continue to be issued as and when relevant information becomes available." Dr Scott-Park continued: "Current scientific evidence supports the opinion that the risk of pet-transmitted MRSA is small and that pet owners who undertake hygienic precautions are at minimal risk. MRSA does not normally harm healthy people including pregnant women, babies and children.
Furthermore, there are no proven recorded cases of MRSA jumping from animal to human. High-risk individuals (longterm sick, elderly or patients with a poor immune system for example) may need to take extra care while vets need to remain aware of the need for extra precautions when treating similarly potentially vulnerable animals."
In emphasising that there was already widespread awareness within the veterinary profession of MRSA and the problems that could occur Dr Scott-Park noted that the BVA's "major concern at present relates to MRSA passing from humans to animals, the more likely path," which was why she said "we are urging vets to adopt best practice and take precautions - use sterile gloves, masks and scrub suits during operations - to prevent animals getting the organism."