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Pets and people can share diseases: part one

Many thanks to Ted R. for sending the link to an interesting article on CNN. Please be aware that you can use the "Ask Dr....

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Mar 17th 2008


Many thanks to Ted R. for sending the link to an interesting article on CNN. Please be aware that you can use the “Ask Dr. Barchas a Question” tool to forward material that you think might be appropriate for this blog.

The article reports on a woman who was infected with a dangerous strain of Staphylococcus bacteria, called MRSA. It is difficult to treat, and resistant to many antibiotics.

From the article:

(AP) — People struggling to get rid of recurrent staph infections might want to consider an often-overlooked source: the family pet.

A German woman repeatedly battled the same strain of drug-resistant superbug MRSA until her cat was tested and treated.

It’s one of the few documented cases of transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus between a person and a cat.

In people, MRSA often causes skin lesions, rashes, boils, and abscesses. In severe cases, it can cause major, life-threatening infections. In pets, the bacteria generally seems to be less pathogenic, although it may cause a variety of skin problems.

Although the article states that transmission of MRSA between pets and people is rarely documented, I have had two clients who have suffered from MRSA infections along with their pets. The risk is real.

Does this mean that pets may be the source of a new superinfection that poses a threat to us all? I don’t think so.

It appears that most people contract MRSA in hospitals or medical facilities, and then pass the bacteria on to their pet.

From the article:

“I think the woman infected the cat and the cat had it and might have reinfected the woman,” Sing [a microbiologist at the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority in Oberschleissheim near Munich] said in an interview.

As I have mentioned before, healthy pets are very unlikely to spread disease to human beings. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control goes out of its way to point out that healthy pets pose minimal risk to people, evn those with compromised immune systems.

However all people with pets should exercise common sense. Keep your pet clean, healthy and free of parasites such as fleas and intestinal worms. Practice good hygiene. If your pet develops a rash or any illness, take it to the vet.