Transcript of Jill’s Interview with Jeremy Vine, October 19th, 2004
JV Now, here’s a troubling story. Evidence is emerging that MRSA is able to claim the lives of pets after a woman lost her pet this summer. Jill Moss believes her pet, Bella, contracted the super-bug during surgery at a Medivet in London. Medivet is a chair of veterinary practices – a chain, I’m sorry, of veterinary practices. Bella had to be put down in August because of her illness, and Jill Moss joins us. This is believed to be the first recorded case of an animal dying because of MRSA in the UK.
JM That’s right
JV Good to meet you. What an awful thing to happen.
JM Yes it is, it’s absolutely awful and it’s been very difficult for me. I watched Bella suffer and I suffered too and it was an unnecessary death, it could have been avoided.
JV Tell us how you think it happened.
JM Well, she was chasing a squirrel, as dogs do, and she ruptured a Cruciate ligament, which is routine surgery. Now, she had surgery but didn’t recover very well. I had a lot of conflicting advice, most of the main vets were away on holiday I must say, and she just became worse and worse and in the end I was so unhappy with the way she was being treated that I removed her into specialist veterinary care. They performed immediate surgery, washed out the knee, found an infection, took cultures and determined MRSA. What they said to me was, if they had had her earlier it could have been contained in the wound, not spread through her body.
JV Which is what happened?
JV And the result of that was what?
JM Well, the result was that they did do their best to get her recovered, and wanted to do reconstructive surgery, but – she was fighting, antibiotics would be given to her, it’s like a war going on in the body, The antibiotics keep losing the war and then she would win, and it would be an ongoing kind of treatment, really. But she did recover well enough to come home, unfortunately she deteriorated and this specialist centre is only a referral hospital and I had to take her back to the original vet who performed the surgery.
JV You’ve got a photo of her there…
JM I have, yes.
JV Let’s just have a look at it. This is a picture, a very nice black and white picture of you with Bella sitting at your knees, and she’s a Samoyed?
JM Samoyed, yes.
JV Which means…she’s largish? And you’re sitting on a park bench, and these were happier times?
JM Yes, very much.
JV And you’ve been devastated by this.
JM Absolutely devastated. So much so that I’ve launched a website, it’s not a scaremongering website, it’s informative, it offers owners advice, it talks about MRSA in people and animals, and hopefully it’s going to go some way towards making some changes so this doesn’t happen to any other animal or owner.
JV You can tell what the website is, if you like.
JM Thank you, Jeremy, it’s www.pets-mrsa.com
JV And you’re sure that this was MRSA and you’re sure that your dog caught it in the operation?
JM Absolutely. I have the bacteriological report from the specialist centre, and what they told me was that infections do occur post-surgery. Now a lot of experts that I’ve talked to have said it bad luck if a dog gets an infection, but it’s not bad luck if that infection is not recognised, not picked up on, and isn’t treated in time, let alone being contaminated in the first place, because MRSA – you and I, anybody in this studio, could be colonised – we wouldn’t know it, it’s only when you have surgery and perhaps transmitted from the nose during an anaesthetic into a wound, that the bacteria gets in, it’s sewn up, it likes dark, warm places, and it breeds. That’s how you become effectively infected with the bacteria.
JV And that wasn’t the end of the story because you were then infected by your dog, correct?
JM Well, now, I have to say this is very rare. The statistics do prove that it’s passed from human to animal, not from animals to human. But, if animals are exposed to people who are colonised then they become ill, or their immune system is suppressed they are more susceptible to getting the bacteria, which is what happened to Bella. I was nursing her without protective clothing, dealing with her extremities, and I had a cut in my hand and one in my foot, the bacteria got in. But it only got into me because I had an open wound and I was directly exposed to the bacteria. It’s really important to stress that people don’t abandon their animals for fear that they’re going to become infected with MRSA. That’s just not the case.
JV So when it got into you, what happened?
JM Well, I began to get a skin rash, and abscess on the hand and foot, only where I’d been in direct contact with the floor, really and with Bella and nursing her. And I’m on antibiotics, now. And a couple of them haven’t worked, but one seems to be working quite well.
JV Well Jill, thank you very much indeed for telling us about that, we have now got Arnold Levy, who is a senior partner at Medivet to give your version, Mr Levy.
AL Yes, hi there. Yes, this MRSA situation is quite a difficult situation. It’s not as clear-cut as Miss Moss has described. In Bella’s case there were many other factors which she hasn’t mentioned. One of the things she didn’t mention was that her dog was suffering from a benign tumour of the adrenal gland, which is an immuno-suppressant condition, and Bella’s immunity was very depressed, and even with a non-resistant infection, and with good antibiotics cases like that can spiral out of control.
JVB But it sounds as if you are conceding there that the MRSA was picked up by the dog during the operation which Medivet did.
AL Well, look, the infection had to start at some point at or after the operation. That is clear. The problem is how did the bug get into the wound? Now, was the bug on the dog before the wound was created? Or did the bug get onto the dog after the wound was created? Miss Moss has an MRSA infection; it is entirely possible that Bella had been infected by Miss Moss handling her dog. It is a normal event, it’s not a reflection on Miss Moss, the bug passes from one organism to another. So when you cut through the skin these bugs can be in the hair follicle on the skin, they will, no matter how careful you clean the skin, or how sterile your theatre may be, a certain amount of bacteria will be carried into the wound by the surgical instrument.
JV Could you not have taken more care, though?
AL I don’t think we could have taken more care in the theatre, our theatre procedures are very tight, we also swab down our premises on a routine basis with very strong disinfectants, we also use steam cleaning so we are very careful about hygiene because there are many other bacteria which are – we view as even more dangerous than MRSA, in fact, Bella had another bug in the wound, called pseudomonas which we view as more aggressive than MRSA.
JV Yes, while you’ve been speaking Jill Moss has been angrily holding up a series of notes for me to read so it might be better if you actually spoke, Jill, instead of writing.
JM OK. What I’d like to say first of all is the infection I have is in my skin, I’m not colonised, there is no way that I could have colonised Bella, that is proved and I have experts backing me up on that. All animals, prior to surgery, should be swabbed. The Royal Veterinary College is now doing that. If MRSA is found colonised on the animal they are given extra antibiotics as a precaution prior to surgery. That is what should be done with all animals. And every single vet surgery should be actually looking for MRSA before they perform surgery, not after.
JV Mr Levy?
AL Yes. I do believe that the veterinary practice should be looking at MRSA. Let me say that this is an extremely rare condition in pets at the moment. That doesn’t mean it may not become more prevalent in the future. The research that has been done tends to suggest that dogs don’t carry the same type of Staphylococcus – which is what MRSA is – as the human population, but even so, I agree with Miss Moss that we ought to be cautious. Whether we ought to swab every single pet before surgery, that is obviously a risk and benefit situation which all our clients will have to decide upon.
AL And it is an option that we could undertake.
JV Alright. David Bently……(e-mail response to the interview)