24 June 2009

MRSA and pets

It's been a while since we've focused on the presence of MRSA strains in pets, and the complications that can cause for the pets' human owners/custodians/companions (or, in the view of my own two cats, abject servants. No, I will not post their pictures. I have some shreds of pride).

The problem with MRSA and pets is not the same as the problem of MRSA ST398 in food animals. Rather, pets tend to carry human strains, passed to them by their owners. The carriage is usually asymptomatic, but not always; there are cases in the medical literature of cats and dogs suffering serious skin and soft-tissue infections from community-strain MRSA, usually USA300. But the emerging consensus seems to be that pets carry the bug transiently — not long, but long enough to reinfect the person who passed the bacterium to the pet in the first place. (This can be, but is not always, the source of recurrent infections in humans: The human takes antibiotics and recovers, but the animal holds onto the bug long enough to pass it back to the now-clear human.)

For anyone who needs to go deeper on this, the current issue of Lancet Infectious Diseases has a good overview of the problem that community MRSA strains pose to pets and their humans. There's a thorough review of the major papers:
  • Cefai, 1994: hospital outbreaks traced to two nurses and through them to their dog
  • Simoons-Smit, 2000: household epidemic of three humans, one cat, one dog
  • Manian, 2003; dog is source for owner's recurrences
  • Vitale, 2006: owner is (apparently) source of cat's MRSA.
(This is a good place to say that this entire history, including personal stories of human and animal infection, is covered in a chapter of SUPERBUG. Publication date coming soon!)

The Lancet paper incorporates reminders of some powerful and troubling trends. As with MRSA ST398, one thing can distinguish MRSA that has been in an animal is a resistance pattern that is slightly different from what we expect but that has arisen because the animals receive different drugs. In the case of pigs and ST398, the intriguing marker is tetracycline resistance; humans don't usually get tetracycline for MRSA, but pigs do. In the case of companion animals, it tends to be fluoroquinolone resistance; pets are more likely to get that class of drugs for a skin/soft-tissue infection. But, the authors caution, that may mean that pets serve as a breeding ground for multi-drug resistant MRSA, with their fluoroquinolone treatment adding another resistance factor into the bug's already potent arsenal.

The authors also remind us that MRSA can come from animals much more directly than through silent carriage: that is, in a bite. Both dog and cat bites have been found infected with MRSA, due to bacterial contamination of the wound either from the pet or from colonization on the human's skin.

The cite is: Oehler RL et al. Bite-related and septic syndromes caused by cats and dogs. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 9(7):439 - 447, July 2009. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(09)70110-0.

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