Vets urged to fight growing threat of MRSA from animals

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Vets are to be issued with new guidelines in an attempt to fight the spread of MRSA following a warning that incidents of animal infection are climbing.

Vets are to be issued with new guidelines in an attempt to fight the spread of MRSA following a warning that incidents of animal infection are climbing.

The MRSA "superbug", which has cast a frightening shadow over hospitals in Britain, can pass between humans and animals.

Yesterday the British Veterinary Association warned that the number of cases would continue to rise and urged its members to take precautions.

Freda Scott-Park, president-elect of the BVA, said the association wanted to ensure vets were aware that the bug can transfer between humans and farm herds or pets, particularly dogs. She said young, old and sick animals could be particularly vulnerable to the bug.

Dr Scott-Park said there were no proven recorded cases of MRSA jumping from animal to human. "We are far more concerned that it passes from humans to animals. That is the more likely path," she said.

A set of guidelines issued to vets will include a call to use sterile gloves, masks and scrub suits during all operations.

Bob Partridge, the president of the British Veterinary Hospitals Association, said the emphasis would be on minimising the risk of transmission by encouraging veterinary surgeons to adopt best practice in operating procedures: "There is certainly a wide awareness in the veterinary profession of MRSA and the problems that occur. These steps are being taken already in veterinary hospitals and a large number of practices, Mr Partridge said. "The problem will be that there will be an increasing number of cases as the bug becomes more common."

Mr Partridge, who practises in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, added the cost of treating pets would rise with the higher levels of sterility but emphasised that incidences of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) amongst animals remained relatively low. Over the past two to three years, between 10 and 20 cases had been reported each year, he said. The UK's first recorded MRSA fatality came last year with the death of 10-year-old Bella, a white samoyed. The dog's owner, Jill Moss, of Edgware, north London, is convinced she went on to contract the bug from her pet. Ms Moss said: "If I had known about MRSA in animals or understood the risks, Bella could have been saved not just from death, but from inhumane suffering.

"We have found this problem is widespread throughout the world, and we are determined to inform and warn pet owners and vets, and be a supportive, but persistent, voice calling for better infection prevention, to avoid it happening again.

"Post-operative infections are not simply bad luck, too often they reflect bad practice.

"Unless important changes take place in the way veterinary practices perform surgery and take better care of post-operative infections, the levels of MRSA in animals will rise.

"At present we really have no clear idea of how MRSA moves through the pet population, nor how it might affect humans."

An expert at the Royal Veterinary College called for urgent action last year. Professor David Lloyd said that more and more infected animals were being referred to vets though they might not be looking out for the bug.