THE BVA has branded fears over MRSA in pets "completely unnecessary".
UK news reports have stated that the hospital superbug - most commonly associated with humans - is on the increase among domestic animals. However, BVA president elect, Freda Scott-Park, assured pet owners that there was no need for panic, saying: "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." Over the past two to three years, only 10 to 20 cases have been reported in the UK annually - a number far removed from the figure of "100 dogs per year", reported in some popular tabloid newspapers.
A number of stories emerging in the press have focused on MRSA awareness campaigner, Jill Moss, whose 10-year-old Samoyed, Bella, died of the superbug following surgery last year, becoming the UK's first recorded MRSA dog fatality.
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 very least, extremely unusual as well as deeply regrettable."
Ms Moss, of Edgware, Middlesex, now campaigns to raise awareness of MRSA in animals and stop other pets from contracting the bug. She claims that "Post-operative infections are not simply bad luck, too often they reflect bad practise." Ms Moss said: "Unless important changes take place in the way veterinary practices perform surgery and take better care of post-operative infections, the levels of MRSA in animals will rise." She added: "At present we really have no clear idea of how MRSA moves through the pet population, nor how it might affect humans, and this is the reason we desperately need more research."
On the latter point, Dr ScottPark agrees. In a prepared statement, she wrote: "Clearly awareness of the potential dangers of MRSA is vital, but detailed information was provided to the veterinary profession the beginning of the year (via the journal of Small Animal Practice, the journal of the 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. Furthermore, there are no proven recorded cases of MRSA jumping from animal to human. High-risk individuals (long-term 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 light of news coverage, the BVA reiterated the importance for vets to adopt best practise and take precautions, such as using sterile gloves, masks and scrub suits during operations, to prevent animals from contracting the bug. However, the association also emphasised that there is already widespread awareness within the veterinary profession of MRSA and the problems that could occur.
Dr Scott-Park said the BVAs major concern at present relates to MRSA passing from humans to animals, which she described asto "the more likely path." This, however, is soon to be the subject of a study partnership between Glasgrow Veterinary School and experts at the Scottish MRSA Reference Laboratory (SMRSARL) at Stobhill, who are set to identify the risks of humans transmitting the infection to their pets.
The study is to be led by David Taylor, professor of veterinary bacteriology and public health at Glasgow Veterinary School. Professor Taylor discovered Glasgow's first case of animal MRSA two years ago, but claims to have seen 20 further cases of infection from throughout the UK since. "The 20 cases identified came from animals all over the country. Most have been wounds, found naturally or at operation, which have become infected. Very few have come from other vet practices," he said.
Dr Taylor added: "For us it is a fairly recent event and we are still finding out more about it." Speaking to Veterinary Times, Dr Giles Edwards, deputy director of SMRSARL, explained: We have a special agreement to provide a typing service for Professor Taylor, which we have been doing for a couple of years. If Professor Taylor gets a strain from an animal in his lab that he thinks is MRSA, we type it for him, having a large collection of MRSA's from humans to compare them to." He went on: "Most of the samples sent to us have been either dog or cat, and have actually been the typical human strain of MRSA, almost certainly acquired from the owners. Probably some with a hospital connection at some stage."
Dr Edwards concluded: "We are trying to get several projects off the ground with people, trying to look more systematically at veterinary MRSAs."