AVMA backgrounder cautions practitioners about risks of MRSA

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The AVMA has published a backgrounder on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a pathogen connected with infections worldwide.

Staphylococcus aureus is transmitted in hospitals and communities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it is one of the most common causes of human skin and soft tissue infections in the United States.

Healthy people are often colonized by S aureus bacteria in their skin and nasal passages, and immunocompromised people are more likely to develop infection. The backgrounder, which was developed in cooperation with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, warns that zoonotic transmission of MRSA "should be considered an occupational risk for veterinary professionals, especially those in large animal practices."

Seemingly healthy animals are sometimes colonized with the bacteria, and there is evidence humans can both transmit it to animals and become colonized or infected from them. Infections have been reported in horses, dogs, cats, pet birds, cattle, and pigs, the backgrounder states.

The publication says veterinarians are at risk of becoming MRSA reservoirs. About 6.5 percent of practitioners who attended the 2005 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum and volunteered for testing were colonized with MRSA. None had been recently hospitalized or previously had the infection diagnosed.

Of those volunteers, about 4.4 percent of small animal practitioners and about 15.6 percent of large animal practitioners were colonized.

About one percent of the general public is colonized with MRSA and 30 percent with Staphylococcus, according to information from CDC spokeswoman Nicole Coffin.

The AVMA backgrounder says veterinarians need to practice proper hygiene and educate others who come into contact with infected animals how to minimize risks.

To read the publication, go to www.avma.org, click on the Reference tab, and follow the Animal Health link. FAQ sections are available through links on the side of the full article.

The AVMA Web site also provides copies of a model infection control plan for veterinary practices and a compendium of veterinary standard precautions, both of which were developed by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians.

The infection control plan recommends use of specific hygiene practices, protective equipment, and precautions for practitioners. The compendium contains more extensive information on the same subjects and additional details on disease transmission, zoonotic diseases of importance in the United States, disinfectants, and OSHA standards.

To find a copy of either document, go to www.avma.org, click on the “Services” bar, and scroll down to the links for "Model infection control plan for veterinary practices, 2006" and "Compendium of veterinary standard precautions: zoonotic disease prevention in veterinary personnel, 2006."