If anyone doubted that MRSA (and indeed, by implication, the whole range of bacterial pathogens) was capable of presenting a constantly evolving and growing risk to pets and owners, the reality is now unavoidable. In a paper published in Veterinary Microbiology Shelley Rankin and other researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have identified Panton valentine leukocidin toxin positive MRSA strains carried by companion animals.
This marks a significant increase in the risks presented to companion animals, and highlights once again the importance of a serious and systematic approach to post-operative care and infection control in the veterinary world.
The Panton valentine leukocidin toxin kills white blood cells and other tissue. It causes a range of dangerously severe reactions in humans, and these reactions have been noted in companion animals. Even more worrying, PVL toxins have been identified in the community strains of MRSA, so the current tendency of some vets to suggest that it is the owners, having had hospital contact, who must have infected their pet, is shown to be even more of a red herring.
But the attribution of blame is also a dead-end; there is no benefit to be gained by seeking to blame one or the other simply in order to avoid criticism. We all need to understand how pets become infected, but that has to be the starting point of action, not the end of responsibility.
The story does not end there, though. Staph. Intermedius is now developing resistance to oxycillin, and ultimately this may be of far greater danger to our pets than Staph. A simply because it is far more common in dogs than MRSA.
The ability of bacteria to adapt to new conditions and threats is well known, and we, as pet owners and vets, need to respond to this ability with more than just another antibiotic. The risks presented by MRSA, as well as the many other pathogens to which we and our pets are exposed, needs to be dealt with at every step of the way, and that requires a change in culture and attitude as well as practice.
Post-operative infections can no longer be thought of as an inconvenience that sometimes delay recovery from surgery, nor can they be approached as something that ‘just happen’. They are not the unavoidable consequence of surgical procedures but an opportunistic enemy that will always try to find the cracks in our practice and exploit them.