Veterinary Researchers Seek Help In Determining
If Our Pets Carry an Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
so-called "super bug" bacteria, Methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus, is a growing problem in the medical profession
where common contact can spread the antibiotic-resistant infection
from doctor to patient.
But are our dogs and cats also capable
of carrying and spreading this bacteria? To find out, researchers
at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary
Medicine are recruiting 750 pet owners to determine if the
bacteria routinely exists on our pets.
The bacteria, MRSA, has become prominent
in the news because it is resistant to many antibiotics, and
has been linked to skin infections, abscesses, joint infections,
and death. It is dangerous because common antibiotics like
oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin don't work against
it. This forces physicians to use stronger, more expensive,
or second- or third-choice medicines that may be less effective
or have more side effects.
MRSA bacteria often lives on the skin of
healthy people causing little more than an occasional boil
or pimple or no symptoms at all. It becomes dangerous when
the bacteria enters the body via a cut or puncture where it
can produce a serious infection that does not readily respond
It is particularly dangerous in healthcare
settings where patients usually have weakened immune systems.
Surgical procedures, dialysis treatment, or common tests that
puncture the skin can introduce MRSA bacteria into the body
where it can cause life-threatening problems, such as bloodstream
infections, surgical site infections, or pneumonia.
While MRSA transmissions are known to occur
in prison populations, sports teams, and the military, they
seem to be most prevalent in healthcare areas. According to
Center for Disease Control data, the proportion of infections
that are antimicrobial resistant has been growing. In 1974,
MRSA infections accounted for two percent of the total number
of staphylococcal infections; in 1995 it was 22 percent; in
2004 it was some 63 percent.
Staphylococcal bacteria are commonly found
on human skin and in the nasal passages, but less so in animals.
Nonetheless, last year the federal Centers for Disease Control
started looking to determine if dogs and cats are a potential
carrier of MRSA bacteria and if there is a disease-transfer
connection. Specifically, scientists wonder if humans are
giving the bacteria to pets, pets are giving it to humans,
or if the staphylococcal bacteria is cycling constantly among
humans and their pets.
Early data indicates that there is a growing
problem in the veterinary world. Veterinarians have reported
cases of MRSA infection among dogs who have had surgery such
as limb amputation. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcal infections
have been found among horses, and outbreaks have occurred
in equine hospitals.
Like with people, bacteria on pets may
have grown resistant to antibiotics as modern veterinary medicine
routinely uses modern pharmaceuticals to save animals who
would have died a quarter century ago.
MU's research study is being headed by
Stephanie Kottler, DVM, a resident veterinarian at the Veterinary
Medical Teaching Hospital. Co-investigators are Leah Cohn
DVM, PhD, associate professor in small animal internal medicine;
John Middleton, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of food animal
internal medicine; and J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, assistant
professor at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College,
Because prior studies have shown that there
is a higher prevalence of MRSA bacteria colonization among
healthcare workers, the MU study will evaluate 750 pets and
their owners divided evenly into three groups 1) pets of human
healthcare workers, 2) pets of veterinary healthcare workers,
and 3) pets belonging to non-healthcare professionals.
"Results of the study will help define
whether pets in households with healthcare workers are a more
likely to serve as reservoirs for community-acquired MRSA,"
Dr. Kottler said.
The study is being funded by the American
College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation, the MU
Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, and Drs. Middleton
and Cohn. Results will be submitted to human and veterinary
peer-reviewed scientific journals.
The research study will only take a few
minutes of time for participants to complete. A questionnaire
is filled out, and then a technician will use a cotton swab
to touch the inside of the pet's nose, and another swab to
touch the inside of the pet owner's nose. The samples will
be cultured to determine what kind of bacteria are present.
Results will remain anonymous.
A coupon for dog food or a pet-related
gift will be given to each participant.
For more information about the study,
contact Dr. Kottler via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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