SHOCKING EVIDENCE that the MRSA ‘superbug’ that kills over 5,000 patients a year in British hospitals due to lack of basic hygiene is now killing pets in the same way – and vets are being urged to clean up their surgeries and operating theatres after a heartbroken dog owner saw her beloved 10 year-old Samoyed die of infection from the deadly bacteria this summer.
Bella, a ten-year-old Samoyed dog – KC registered name Priscilla Princess - is believed to be one of the first recorded cases of a dog dying of MRSA in the UK. Her owner, actress Jill Moss, 34, of Edgware, north London is now launching a campaign to educate pet owners and vets about the risks to animals.
MRSA - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus -, sometimes referred to in the media as the SUPERBUG, kills around 5,000 human patients a year. It affects both humans and animals. MRSA is a bacterium that, under normal conditions, is relatively harmless. Every human being lives with different kinds of bacteria (Staphylococcus included) in our bodies and on our skin without harmful effects, but problems can occur when they get into the blood stream or tissue through a cut or broken skin, particularly if an individual’s immune system is weakened. MRSA can be so difficult to treat that in some cases it is fatal.
Experts believe the spread of MRSA to animals is of concern, and are demanding more research into the risks, but have also stressed that the chances of the bug transferring to humans is small.
David Lloyd, professor of dermatology at the Royal Veterinary College, North Mymms, first documented MRSA in small animals in 1999 and researched the risks involved.
"MRSA has been building up gradually in the animal population," he said. "Although we have warned about it for some years, it was only recently people started to listen.
"We want to determine the risks of MRSA transmission and infection amongst owners and pets. At present we believe there is a small risk that dogs carrying MRSA could pass it on to their owners but it is unlikely that MRSA can sustain itself in healthy dogs and cats as it does in humans.
"If you have a weak immune system and the dog has MRSA there could be transfer, but this is rare. The bigger risk is that the human MRSA carrier will transfer MRSA to a sick pet."
The first case of MRSA among dogs was recorded in 1999 when 11 dogs were diagnosed, although none died.
Unlike one in three humans, animals do not normally carry the staphylococcus aureus (SA) bacteria which, when resistant to antibiotic treatment, is called MRSA.
Jill Moss believes that Bella may have picked up the infection while undergoing surgery for a routine knee operation, although the veterinary surgery in question denies this. She is now calling for tighter guidelines for veterinary practices, including better hygiene practices.
On July 17th 2004 Bella was doing what all dogs do – chasing a squirrel, when she ruptured her cruciate ligament in the knee. After Jill rushed her to Medivet, they performed immediate surgery, usually a straightforward procedure to repair the damage. Bella was allowed home after treatment, but she became ill in the week following surgery, and the vets treated her for postoperative pain. Her wound burst open and she was admitted as an emergency. After one week as an in-patient at the Medivet hospital her condition worsened.
Following her discharge from the specialist hospital, Bella became ill again.
The referral hospital advised that the journey back to them was too long and that Jill should take her to Medivet as an emergency.
Jill Moss comments, "I cannot bring Bella back (although I would give anything to be able to do so), but I do hope that Bella’s story will go some way towards ensuring that no other animal or owner has to suffer as I have. I hope that people will be able to challenge the way their pet is treated, and use the knowledge of my experience to get better treatment in the future."
Points at issue
Jill has listed several key points that have arisen from her experience, and feels that all of them need addressing further by the veterinary profession:
Poor care is un-addressed outside of the civil courts. Even an organisation the size of Medivet has no formal complaints procedure. Why?
Most of the ‘nurses’ working at the Medivet Hendon Hospital were allegedly untrained. In human health care, the title of ‘Nurse’ cannot be used until an individual is registered with the Nurses’ and Midwives’ Council. Why does the regulating body of Veterinary Nurses allow untrained people to be called ‘veterinary nurse’?
Medivet has not been able to produce any policy or procedure that guides its staff in infection control or the care of seriously infected animals. Can it ever be acceptable for a veterinary hospital to not have written guidelines on infection control?
The BSAVA British Small Animal Veterinary Association has produced guidelines on infection control, but these are voluntary. Medivet is not approved by the BSAVA, although ‘approved’ status is voluntary. Is there not a case for the regulatory body or DEFRA to enforce compulsory standards of infection control?
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons only considers allegations of professional misconduct. It will not consider allegations of neglect on the part of a vet. Although the Government is considering changes to the 1966 act, shouldn’t there be an independent ombudsman to evaluate and act upon complaints against vets?
Medivet declined to comment on the matter.
Jill Moss has started a website dedicated to Bella and the ongoing quest to see better hygiene within the veterinary profession to prevent MRSA in pets: