You may have thought you could only get MRSA at hospitals and the beach, but apparently researchers have discovered that it can be transmitted via pets and lead to repeat infections, reports the New York Times. One recent case involved a baby elephant and 20 human caretakers at the San Diego Zoo last year, but at the domestic level it looks like cats (and dogs, but not to the same degree) somehow contribute to cycle of infection at home.
Note what factors don’t seem to have an effect on whether MRSA turned up in random spot checks at homes:
When they tried to figure out what might make it more likely to have the bacteria at home, they ruled out many supposed risk factors, including working out at a gym, having children who attended day care, having a recent infection or recent antibiotic use, and even working in a health care facility.
The one variable that overwhelmingly predicted the presence of the germ was the presence of a cat. Cat owners were eight times more likely than others to have MRSA at home.
To be fair to cats, it looks like humans pass the MRSA over, sort of like growing it on a pet-shaped garden. For example, check out how this man’s dalmation became a four-legged MRSA dispenser through no fault of his own.
Dr. Oehler recounted the case of a diabetic man with recurrent MRSA skin infections that were eventually traced to his dog, a Dalmatian who carried the bacteria but was not ill.
“He would sleep with the couple in the bed and lick them in the face,” said Dr. Farrin A. Manian, chief of infectious diseases at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis.
Dr. Manian believes the dog was infected by its owner, but then served as a reservoir for the bacteria, reinfecting his patient.
Run away! Wrap everything in Saran Wrap!
All scaremongering aside, the risk of catching MRSA from your pet is incredibly low, so don’t go euthanizing anything just yet. Instead, just start washing your hands.
J. Scott Weese, a veterinary internist and microbiologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, believes MRSA infections transmitted between people and animals are relatively rare.
His tests of randomly selected dogs, for example, have shown that at any given time only 2 to 3 percent carry MRSA on their fur or skin or in their saliva. And even if a pet becomes colonized, meaning that the bacteria take up residence and reproduce, veterinarians say most healthy animals should be rid of it in a matter of weeks.
For protection, Dr. Oehler recommends hand washing or using hand gels before and after playing with a pet, not letting a pet lick people around the face, and not washing pet food or water bowls in the same sink that food is prepared.
People should also wear gloves when attending to pets that have open wounds, he said, and should keep any of their own broken skin bandaged.