Therapy Dogs Can Spread MRSA and C. Difficile

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Therapy dogs and MRSA
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Therapy dogs might be responsible for spreading MRSA and C. Difficile. One such study suggests that canines used for pet therapy; kissed, and handled by patients might also need their paws sanitized to prevent spread of MRSA and C. Difficile.

S. Lefebvre and J.S. Weese from the University of Guelph in Canada sent a letter to the editor of the Journal of Hospital Infection, sharing a study showing that therapy dogs can spread the diseases. The study showed that twelve teams of dog handlers studied had no MRSA or C. Difficile on their hands, shown by testing, before visiting acute care facilities – nor did 14 teams of dog handlers visiting long-term care facilities. The dogs were also tested and found to have no MRSA or C. Difficile.

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The dog handlers were observed closely during therapy visits to the facilities. After leaving, testing was again performed to determine the presence of MRSA or C. Difficile. After visiting an acute care facility, one dog was found to have C. Difficile on its paws. After visiting a long-term care facility, MRSA was found on the dog handler. The presence of MRSA suggests the dog picked up the bacteria on its fur, and had been kissed and on the beds of several patients.

The study showed that pet therapy dogs could pick up bacteria such as MRSA and C. Difficile and pass them between patients during visits. The concern is that other bacteria, such as influence and Norovirus might also be spread by therapy dogs.

The study authors suggest strict sanitation procedures for dog handlers (and perhaps the dogs too) in order to prevent therapy dogs from spreading diseases such as MRSA and C. Difficile.

Journal of Hospital Infection, doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2009.02.019

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