Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” is receiving consistent media attention, with recent articles discussing whether pets are transmitting the infectious bacteria to people.
Although some healthy people carry MRSA bacteria and never become ill, it can cause serious skin infections, which may develop into potentially fatal organ and bloodstream infections and pneumonia.
Now considered an emerging zoonotic disease, meaning it may be transmitted between humans and animals, MRSA is of increasing concern to pet owners. However, the connection between pets, people, and MRSA is not entirely clear.
How Serious Is the Threat?
There is no doubt that the consequences of MRSA infections can be dire, but are you and your pet in danger or is the media attention generating fear that is unwarranted?
Gregg Takashima, DVM, AAHA board member, and founder of AAHA-accredited Parkway Veterinary Hospital in Lake Oswego, Ore., says, “Animals are less of a risk for spread of the disease than humans.
“This is an important disease, but to put it in perspective, in the United States, the common flu is responsible for approximately 200,000 hospitalizations per year and 36,000 deaths. MRSA is estimated [by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to be associated with approximately 94,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 deaths per year.”
“MRSA is a concern but…rates in pets are low,” says Scott Weese, DVM, of the Ontario Veterinary College.
“People should remember that other people are usually a greater risk of MRSA than their pets,” continues Weese, who is part of a team of researchers studying MRSA in humans and companion animals.
Just the Facts
- MRSA is spread by contact with people, animals, or objects with the bacteria on them.
- “Colonized” pets and people are asymptomatic, but can become infected if the bacteria enter the body through a wound or an open sore.
- Symptoms in humans begin with red bumps resembling pimples or spider bites.
- Symptoms in pets include fever, loss of appetite, and open sores.
Weese explains, “MRSA infections can range from inapparent to rapidly fatal,” but he goes on to say, “The majority of animals with MRSA will recover with proper treatment.”
Advice for Pet Owners
If your pet shows signs of MRSA or has been exposed to MRSA, call your veterinarian immediately.
“The single most effective prevention protocol is appropriate hygiene — like washing your hands!” says Takashima.
Weese offers similar advice. “Routine, common sense practices such as hand-washing, judicious antibiotic use, and good veterinary care can reduce the risk of MRSA infection and transmission.” MRSA commonly lives in the nose in addition to the infection site, so Weese also advises avoiding contact with your pet’s face.
MRSA is highly contagious. Takashima notes that if you suspect your pet is infected, it is important to alert staff and doctors before bringing your pet into a veterinary clinic.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.