Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Health Warning: MRSA Bacteria Infection and Horses

I'm copying this from an Elsevier newsletter received today, just as a reminder....

MRSA -- a vigorous bacterial infection resistant to standard drug treatments - -can be picked up in dirty hospitals, as most people know. But there have been increasing reports of domestic animals transmitting MRSA to humans and the potential for animals to become a reservoir of MRSA.

A new study suggests that it can also be picked up from horses, even when normal precautions are taken. This has wide implications for farmers, the racing industry, recreational horse owners, horse farm personnel, and veterinary practices.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is resistant to most standard antimicrobials and frequently to a wide range of additional antimicrobial classes. Infections are difficult to treat and are associated with increased morbidity, mortality and treatment costs.

A study by Ontario-based veterinary scientist Dr Scott Weese published in Elsevier's journal Veterinary Microbiology reports that a team caring for a new-born foal quickly developed symptoms of MRSA, in the form of skin lesions, almost certainly arising from close contact with the foal.

The foal was under treatment in a Canadian animal hospital for renal failure and septicaemia. Part of the foal's management involved veterinary students providing 24-hour nursing care to individual foals in 4-hour shifts. In most situations, students sit in direct contact with the foal for the entirety of their shift, often with the foal partially on the students' lap to enable proper restraint, feeding and provision of nursing care.

Although glove use is mandatory for any horse-contact, and personnel wear clean coveralls, contact with horse bodily secretions is inevitable because of the duration of contact and the sometimes fractious or excitable nature of foals.

In this case, within less than a week tests on the foal revealed that MRSA had been isolated from the admission nasal swabs of the foal, and checks on the hospital staff quickly showed that some of those treating the foal were, in turn, already developing MRSA skin infections.

The study warns that occupational or recreational exposure to horses might be an important risk factor for MRSA infection or colonisation. This needs to be considered when managing animals with MRSA infection or colonisation, either in a veterinary hospital or on farms. The authors also suggest that human medical doctors investigating skin and soft tissue infections should check for prior contact with animals, particularly horses.