TERRI JOHNSON, CVT
During cold and flu season, we wash our hands often and try to avoid contact with people who are sick. Our pets can get contagious diseases too. What do veterinary hospitals do to prevent the spread of contagious diseases? Here’s one typical scenario.
When Boots the cat was sneezing and had discharge from his eyes and nose, Mrs. Jones called AAHA-accredited Willowcrest Veterinary Hospital. Barb, the customer service representative, asked Mrs. Jones some questions about Boots’s symptoms and from their conversation determined that Boots quite possibly had a contagious disease. Barb scheduled Mrs. Jones and Boots for an appointment that afternoon.
Trained staff can often identify patients who might be contagious before the pet arrives at the hospital. Diseases like upper respiratory infections in cats and kennel cough (Bordetella) in dogs are very contagious and need to be dealt with right away when a pet arrives at the hospital. The best way to control the spread of contagious diseases is to confine patients to either a specific room or area of the hospital that is segregated from other patients.
Because Barb recognized the possibility of a contagious pet coming in, she alerted Dr. Johnson and the technician, Allison. Per the hospital’s contagious disease protocol, standard precautions like making sure Boots goes right into a special examination room were addressed. Allison reserved one of the examination rooms usually set aside for dogs for Boots’s examination. This kind of infection is not contagious to dogs, so using this room will help prevent the spread of the disease to other cats.
When Mrs. Jones and Boots arrive for their appointment, they are taken directly into the examination room. Getting Boots into the examination room right away helps prevent spreading the infection in the waiting area and throughout the hospital. Dr. Johnson and Allison prepare for the evaluation by dressing in gloves and gowns. Allison talks to Mrs. Jones about Boots’s symptoms and how he’s been acting and feeling. She reviews Boots’s vaccination history with Mrs. Jones and asks if he is allowed to go outside. Allison takes Boots’s temperature, pulse, and respiration and determines if Boots is in pain. Dr. Johnson reviews the findings before going into the room to examine Boots. She does a thorough examination, talks to Mrs. Jones, and determines that Boots should be hospitalized for treatment. Once Dr. Johnson confirms that Boots has a contagious disease, she talks to Mrs. Jones about appropriate actions she should take to clean Boots’s areas at home and to make sure that other pets in the family are protected from the disease.
After the examination, Dr. Johnson and Allison take special precautions to make sure that their hands and any instruments used during the examination are thoroughly washed and sanitized and that the examination room is thoroughly cleaned with antimicrobial products.
Boots is taken to a special room set up for patients with a contagious disease, and his status is identified in such a way that is obvious to all hospital staff. To help contain the disease, usually only one person is assigned to take care of patients in this area. The staff will take special care of Boots and prevent spreading his illness by dressing in a gown, booties, a mask, and gloves when they come in the room for treatments. They will wear these items only when they’re in the room with Boots. All materials to be discarded will be double-bagged to prevent infectious materials from being spread. The area also has a special ventilation system that takes air up and out of the room to prevent the spread of any contaminated air throughout the hospital.
Boots is fortunate that Mrs. Jones brought him to an AAHA-accredited practice. AAHA practices have established protocols to ensure the best possible treatment for pets with contagious illnesses, including preventing the spread of diseases to other patients. AAHA practices train staff members to understand and recognize the signs and symptoms of contagious diseases and how to treat them.
The AAHA Standards require accredited practices to have either a specific room or area for housing contagious patients or to have a plan to segregate and then refer them to another practice that treats patients with contagious diseases. In either case, practices follow strict cleaning and sanitizing guidelines for containing and disposing of materials that may come into contact with the patient. Most hospitals have equipment and supplies dedicated solely to the isolation area or room. Hospital staff follow infection control policies related to their own personal hygiene, patient care, and disinfection of equipment and facilities. These include frequent hand washing and cleaning of all hospital surfaces with antimicrobial agents.
Happily, Boots recovered from his illness and went home in a few days. The most effective way for you to prevent contagious diseases and ensure your pet’s good health is by taking your pet to the veterinarian for regular exams and vaccinations. Most pet owners find that by following their veterinarian’s nutritional and health recommendations, their pets lead happy, healthy lives.
To learn whether your veterinary practice is accredited by AAHA, or to find an AAHA-accredited practice in your area, click here.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter May/June 09 - Volume 4 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.