A visit to the vet might be a better option than your doctor when members of your family have a bacterial infection, say researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU). They're investigating whether the family pet could be a reservoir for infections of multi-resistant bacteria in humans. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are a growing problem and doctors are routinely having to prescribe second- and third-choice medicines when more common antibiotics don't work.
One particular type of bacterium, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can be fatal in humans, is the focus of a new research project led by MU veterinarians Stephanie Kottler, Leah Cohn and John Middleton. The researchers believe that pets might be an important factor behind the increase in community-acquired MRSA infections.
"We used to think of these antibiotic-resistant infections as a healthcare issue that appeared in post-operative or long-term patients," explained Kottler. "However, we have been seeing more of these infections that have been acquired throughout the general population. It's important to know what environmental factors might be encouraging or prolonging these infections."
The researchers said that MRSA bacteria can live in the noses or on the skin of humans and animals where it might not produce any symptoms. The bacteria become dangerous when they enter the tissue through a cut or puncture, producing an infection. In some cases, the bacteria can cause life-threatening problems. While the infections are most often found in patients after hospitalization, there is an increasing occurrence of community-acquired infections among prison populations, sports teams, military personnel and the general public.
MRSA rates have increased dramatically since the 1970s. In 1974, MRSA infections accounted for two percent of the total number of staphylococcal infections; in 1995 it was 22 percent, and in 2004, it was 63 percent, according to the CDC. According to Middleton, the study will help evaluate the various risk factors associated with MRSA and identify whether pets are part of the problem.
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Source: University of Missouri-Columbia