Human superbug MRSA linked to pets

Scientists in the UK are investigating the possibility that there may be links between the hospital superbug MRSA in pets and humans.

According to experts it is possible that people are infecting pets, and vice-versa, after reports by the British Veterinary Association which determined that between 10 and 20 pets are found to carry the bug each year.

They have warned that the number is increasing.

Apparently the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), has set up a committee to look at MRSA in pets and livestock.

To date dogs, cats, a rabbit and a horse, have all known to have had MRSA in the UK, while livestock in the U.S., Ireland and Canada have also developed the superbug.

The first reports of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureas) in animals, surfaced in 1972, but since 1999 there have been more frequent reports of animals having the superbug, and there appears to be no reason why it cannot be passed from pet to pet and from pet to human.

Dr Donald Morrison, an MRSA expert at the Scottish MRSA Reference Laboratory, says that so far, all animals in the UK which have had it, have had the strain of MRSA which is seen in hospitals, rather than the strain seen in the community.

Vets have been advised to take similar precautions as are carried out in hospitals, such as using sterile gloves, scrub suits and masks during operations.

Early in the year a government committee of health experts was set up to look into the issue.

However, according to DEFRA , the overall significance of the detection of MRSA in animals, in relation to public health is unknown.

Although MRSA has been linked to up to 1,000 human deaths a year, but there has apparently been a downward trend in the number of infections seen recently.

Dr Donald Morrison says his centre had received reports of pets developing MRSA and was helping the government research the issue.

Morrison says that so far it seems to be a case of the patient passing it on to the pet, but there is no reason why it cannot be passed from pet to pet, and pet to human, but it is too early to draw any firm conclusions.

However, he does say, that it was very unlikely that MRSA would be passed on to humans from drinking cows' milk or eating meat.

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