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Dog germs include risk of MRSA infection

June 21, 2009 |  3:30 pm

DogBite Americans love their pets even though the household critters can transmit as many as 30 different infectious diseases, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

MRSA infections between dogs and cats and their owners are increasing, according to a review of pet-related human health problems published today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. MRSA is an infection that has become more troublesome in recent years. It spreads easily through skin wounds and can be difficult to treat. Household pets are now considered a reservoir for MRSA, and skin infections in dogs and cats can be spread to humans through bites, said the author of the study, Dr. Richard Oehler of the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Severe infections (MRSA as well as other germs) from cat and dog bites occur in about 20% of all bite injuries. These infections are thought to be caused by the bacteria carried by the pet as well as germs on human skin. Dog and cat bites cause about 1% of all emergency room visits each year. Bites to the hands, forearms, neck, and head have the most potential for serious infection.

"Pet owners are often unaware of the potential for transmission of life-threatening pathogens from their canine and feline companions," Oehler said. "Bite injuries are a major cause of injury in the USA and Europe each year, particularly in children."

- -Shari Roan
Photo: A rottweiler wears a bite guard. Credit: Allessandro Della Valle  /  EPA