Speaker: Animal hospitals must practice infection control

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There’s a difference between bio­security and infection control.

“Biosecurity is something that is much more rigid. You’re thinking about keeping disease out,” said Dr. Lucas Pantaleon, a former equine practitioner and current veterinary industry adviser. “Infection control is what we do in our veterinary practice.”

Dr. Pantaleon presented three sessions on biosecurity—and infection control—during a daylong track at the annual meeting of the American Animal Hospital Association, March 30-April 2 in Nashville, Tennessee. He also is senior clinical veterinarian adviser for Virox Animal Health, which makes disinfectants.

The middle talk was a wide-ranging discussion of “Biosecurity and One Health,” particularly relative to companion animal practice. The one-health concept is that human, animal, and environmental health are inextricably intertwined. Dr. Pantaleon said biosecurity and infection control both involve protecting humans, animals, and the environment from pathogens.

In animal hospitals, the risks vary, depending on the type of practice. Specialty and emergency practices tend to have high-risk patients, but general practices have a lot of puppies that can catch and spread disease.

“You’re not going to be able to keep everything sterile; diseases are going to happen,” Dr. Pantaleon said. But you can have things in place to prevent or limit the spread.

Infectious diseases can lead to outbreaks, which can lead to epidemics or pandemics. Dr. Pantaleon argued that advances in medicine and technology have led to better preparedness. Among these are better hygiene, a limited number of new antimicrobials, other ways to treat antimicrobial-resistant infections, rapid diagnostic tools, and new vaccines.

Dr. Pantaleon displayed a long list of zoonotic diseases of pets. He noted that a veterinarian contracted H7N2 avian influenza during a recent outbreak of the virus among cats in New York City animal shelters, observing that the virus in this case had moved from wildlife to domestic animals to humans.

Risk of zoonoses also arises with therapy dogs in human hospitals. The dogs go through screening but could bring zoonoses from the hospital back into the community.

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria
This digitally colorized image from a scanning electron microscope depicts four magenta-colored, spherical, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria being phagocytized by blue-colored human neutrophils. MRSA bacteria are among the most commonly detected microorganisms associated with outbreaks of infectious disease at veterinary teaching hospitals. (Courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Dr. Pantaleon said preventing infection in a veterinary practice provides a better outcome at a lower cost than treating infection.

According to “Characteristics of biosecurity and infection control programs at veterinary teaching hospitals” (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;233:767-773), a 2006-2007 survey of 38 veterinary teaching hospitals revealed that 82 percent reported an outbreak of an infectious disease during the preceding five years. According to other sources, veterinary teaching hospitals have reported direct costs of thousands to millions of dollars from outbreaks.

“Investing in infection prevention should pay out, should be part of what you do to provide good care to your patients,” Dr. Pantaleon said.

In addition to prevention, he recommended that companion animal practices should implement surveillance to monitor everything from cases of parvovirus infections to surgical-site infections.