Dont let the vet bugs bite
Written by Karen Redpath Illustration by Kevin Brockbank
Our article on the animal victims of the hospital super-bug MRSA sparked worldwide interest. Jill Moss, owner of Bella - the first recorded dog to have died from the killer infection, set up the Bella Moss Foundation to raise awareness of the problem and has now been awarded charity status.
Jill's tireless hard work in educating people via the website www. pets-mrsa.com and liaising with the media has paid off. She receives around 300 enquiries a month from pet owners across the UK and beyond, and has been interviewed for London Tonight, GMTV, the Daily Mail, Radio 5 Live, The Independent and News 24 South Africa, to name but a few.
Jill has also been invited by DEFRA to become a member of their DARC (DEFRA Anti microbial Resistance Co-ordination) subgroup on MRSA and animals. This means she will contribute to all future meetings. All this media attention seems to have worried the veterinary profession, and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued a press release to the national press, playing down fears generated by Jill's campaign.
Jill said, "The BVA did not make a formal announcement to its members as reported, but simply responded to pressure from the Bella Moss Foundation."
The president-elect of the BVA, Dr Freda Scott-Park, said in the press release, "The alarm being generated is completely unnecessary. 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. 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. Practical advice and guidelines to the profession will also continue to be issued as and when relevant information becomes available."
Jill says it is not enough to provide guidelines and is insisting
that the Government introduces enforceable standards of hygiene into UK
Jill has been working in consultation with Professor David Lloyd from
London's Royal Veterinary College,as
he has undertaken research into cases of MRSA in animals. During the
course of one day, he swabbed staff and animals at the Queen Mother
Hospital in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and found that 18 per cent of
staff were carrying the MRSA bug.
Professor Lloyd identified that most dogs infected had been found to
have had the same strain found in humans. He said, "Over 80 per cent of
MRSA positive samples taken from animals and humans were the same
strain that dominates in UK hospitals called EMRSA - 15. We concluded
that originally the strain had come from a human source, which provides
confirmation that these organisms can be transferred from people to
Professor Lloyd has studied infections in animals for more than 25
years and found that the number of cases of MRSA in animals is on the
rise. He said, "In 1998 we recognised that a problem was developing in
dogs in Europe and the US, and we started taking precautions. By 2003,
we were seeing more cases - mainly in dogs.
The risk that we thought was small is now greater and we urgently
need to do significant research into this problem."
Jill has outlined changes which,
she believes, will help to reduce cases of MRSA, but the veterinary
profession faces a problem in taking up some of these new
recommendations. The president of the BVA, Bob Partridge, told Jill,
"Vets wearing sterile clothing is not a requirement and would cost
another £10-15 on every procedure. The commercial reality is that we
have to cut corners - owners demand that."
Jill argues, "Surely the owner should know and have the choice to
make that decision. Bella was the most precious friend in my life, and
if I had known that MRSA existed in animals and been told that for the
sake of £10 she could have been protected from dying, she would still
be alive today."
Jill also wants pet owners to be aware of the signs of MRSA, as
catching it early gives a greater chance of survival. She said, "All
non-healing wounds and transient infections should be swabbed
immediately and cultures taken for MRSA. In all of the cases we have
come across in the past five months, early detection and treatment
has resulted in animals recovering from MRSA. This is the key."
Agony aunt Claire Rayner, who
is leading the campaign for cleaner hospitals after being infected with
MRSA herself, has extended her support to the Bella Moss Foundation as
an honorary patron. She said, "We as a society need to be concerned
with animals contracting MRSA. It is a very worrying situation and vets
should be diligent about infection control. We should all be concerned
with protecting pets from unnecessary suffering and death."
It is so important to Jill that these changes are made, as the experience she went through with Bella is something she never wants repeated. Jill said, "Bella and I were confined to a consulting room, and as Bella lay on the floor, gasping for breath, I watched helplessly as young, unqualified veterinary staff refused to treat her for fear of becoming infected themselves.
In the end, I had to nurse Bella personally, even to the point of having to phone the practice switchboard on my mobile from the consulting room where Bella and I were confined because no one would come in. Eventually, with no other choice, I had to have her put to sleep. The experience of watching my most beloved friend deteriorate in front of my eyes and be refused care has left me feeling determined that no other animal or pet owner should ever suffer in this way. This is why I have set up the Bella Moss Foundation."
New standards for vets
• Vets need to be diligent about cleanliness of their surgeries to prevent MRSA and other serious infections
• All vets must have infection control policies
• Vet staff must clean their hands in between treating patients
• Practices should isolate infected/suspected animals
• Vets should take swabs from pets early to confirm diagnosis
• Vets should wear gowns, masks, caps and gloves when operating and Examining postoperative wounds. This is because if they carry the bacteria in their mouths during examination of wounds after surgery The bacteria can still be transmitted via breath.
• Surgeries should offer post operative care including barrier nursing Which must be in place.
• Vets should not over prescribe antibiotics
• The government should introduce enforceable standards of hygiene into all veterinary practices across the UK