Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria, is found on the skin of humans, but not on animals. Some animals can acquire S. aureus and MRSA from contact with people who are infected with the bacterium. Although research suggests that animals can be colonized by MRSA, they also can clear the infection on their own.
In humans, S. aureus is usually benign, but can become deadly if the bacteria invades deeper into the body. Normally treated with antibiotics, larger concerns around infection began to rise when some cases of staph infection became resistant to antibiotics – particularly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
An alarming rise in community-acquired MRSA (as opposed to hospital-acquired) in the late 1990s caused physicians and public health professionals to look for sources of infection. Infectious disease experts began to wonder if household pets could be sources, or carriers, of MRSA. Pet owners likewise became concerned about their pets becoming infected with MRSA.
Morris Animal Foundation responded to the confusion by funding several research projects aimed at improving our understanding of the relationship between MRSA, people, and companion animals.
The projects focused on a variety of unanswered questions about MRSA and animals, including the best anatomic sites on dogs to culture for MRSA, identifying risk factors for transmission, and the types of companion animals that can harbor MRSA. The good news is that researchers were able to make practical recommendations to both veterinarians and physicians on how to keep their patients healthy.
There are still more questions to answer about MRSA and our pets, and some studies are ongoing. Currently, our active studies are looking at persistent infections, as well as studying the impact of MRSA on the health of therapy dogs that often encounter patients with MRSA.
Although MRSA remains a major public health concern, we now have a better understanding of how it interacts with our companion animals, and how to better protect people and our pets.