May 8, 2009

Pet therapy dogs could spread MRSA, germs

Pet therapy dogs could carry pathogens from patient to patient, Canadian researchers say.

The study was reported by researchers at the University of Guelph in a letter to the editor of the Journal of Hospital Infection.

The study of 26 pet therapy dog-handler teams visited acute care facilities and long-term care facilities. Prior to each visit, the dog's forepaws and their handlers' hands were tested for MRSA, vancomycin-resistant enterococci and C.difficile.

In addition, the investigator sanitized her hands, handled each dog, and then tested her hands for the same pathogens. The dogs and handlers were observed at all times.

One therapy dog that had shaken paws with many patients had C.difficile on its paws. Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus was detected on the hands of the investigator who had petted a dog that had been allowed onto patient's beds and had been seen being repeatedly kissed by two patients.

MRSA on the hands of the investigator presents a new avenue for transmission -- not only for the pathogens evaluated in the study -- but potentially for others such as influenza and norovirus, the researchers say.

The transmission of pathogens could be contained, the researchers said, by having all patients and handlers following recommended hand sanitation procedures.