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MRSA Infection Doesn't Stop at the Hospital

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Tampa, FLWhat may have begun as a hospital infection is now beginning to make the rounds with creatures that may never wind up in hospital per se, but are equally impacted by an MRSA infection. Pets found to harbor an MRSA staff infection shed that infection right back into the atmosphere—and to humans.

According to a recent story in the New York Times, MRSA infections have been showing up in pets over the past five years and are becoming a growing problem for veterinarians. Drug-resistant pathogens have been turning up with increasing regularity in birds, cats, dogs, horses, pigs, rabbits and rodents.

Cats have proven to be a significant source for MRSA infection, according to a study published over the summer in the American Journal of Infection Control. Researchers at the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons College in Boston swabbed various household surfaces, from bathtub drains to trash cans and kitchen sponges. Thirty-five addresses selected at random were found to harbor MRSA in nearly half of the homes sampled.

Ruled out were risk factors such as working out at a gym, having children who attended day care, having a recent infection or recent antibiotic use, or working in a health care facility.

That left the household cat. Cat owners were eight times more likely than others to have MRSA at home.

"There are a number of papers coming out now showing that pets pick up MRSA from us," said Dr. Elizabeth A. Scott of Simmons College, "and that they shed it back into the environment again."

Just How Serious is MRSA Staph Infection in Pets?

There are diverging views as to just how serious this is. J. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph believes that the transmission of MRSA infections between pets and their handlers remains relatively rare. However Dr. Richard L. Oehler, an infectious disease specialist from the University of South Florida College of Medicine, is concerned that the phenomenon is a "burgeoning epidemic."

Oehler reviewed case histories of MRSA infections jumping between pets and humans, publishing his findings in The Lancet this past July.

There is agreement on the need for more frequent hand-washing—especially after handling a pet.

A pet is a gift that can keep on giving and most would rather not have this particular gift at play. Nonetheless, the prevailing wisdom is that any pet with an MRSA infection probably acquired it from a human—and many of those infections originated in a hospital setting.

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